Remembering My Heroes

My Grandpa Bob, or "Uncle Bob" as he preferred we call him, served as a 1st Lieutenant in the 101st Airborne in World War II.  After dropping into Normandy, he was later injured by shrapnel fire in Holland ("Shot in the ass in the face of the enemy," he'd say) but finished out the war in the Battle of the Bulge before coming home.  He was decorated with two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star and is now buried in Arlington Cemetery next to his wife Alice LaVerne.  Before he died, he would proudly tell people with a twinkle in his eye, "I'll be buried right behind President Kennedy.......about a mile behind him."  Someday I'll take my husband and son to put flowers on their graves, but in the meantime we can visit Arlington Cemetery's virtual map.

During the war, my grandfather also served as the Athletic Officer for the 101st.  As a heavy-weight boxer himself, he fought Joe Louis in an exhibition match--which he lost.  He went on to fight Golden Glove tournaments and years later gave my older brother Patrick a few tips, one of which was to let the other guy throw all the punches until he tires himself out.  Note to self.

Patrick gave a moving eulogy at my grandfather's funeral and described his career as a family man, a community leader and a dedicated and beloved football coach who was known for turning mediocre teams into winning machines. He ended the tribute by saying, "Heaven's football team must be in a slump," which had the large crowd laughing through their tears. You can see photos of Coach Bob Burns in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame.  What a character that man was.

Inspired by my grandfather, Patrick went on to join the army as a JAG lawyer and became a paratrooper himself.  He has tapped into the network of I Company 502, a group of comrades, widows and family of men in the 101st Airborne.  A few years ago Patrick tracked down Private Marvin Cartwright who fought next to my grandfather. I tagged along the day Patrick went to meet and interview him about his time in the war.  My brother videotaped the conversation and we enjoyed the afternoon listening to his stories.  So few people think to ask questions and I'm glad Patrick thought to ask.  It clearly meant a lot to Marvin, who has since passed away, and to his family.

Today I also remember others in my family who have served:  My maternal Grandfather Charles Markley, Uncle Jerry Markley, Cousin Tom Burns and Uncle John Burns.  My husband's maternal grandfather actually served in England's military in World War I, but that is story for another day.

Thank you to all who have served and to all the everyday heroes.  Enjoy the holiday today!

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