This is a true story of a veteran, a real hero…an everyday hard working man who probably could have worked alongside any of us, and may in fact may be your next door neighbor. Or …your daddy.
Harold Kelley was a double veteran of World War II and Korea. He fought at the Chosin Reservoir. His spirit lives in every veteran and wounded warrior who has ever sacrificed for our country and our way of life. May these words remind you of that special veteran in YOUR life.
NO ONE HATES WAR MORE THAN THOSE WHO MUST FIGHT IT.
THEIR WAR GOES ON UNTIL THEY BREATHE THEIR LAST BREATH…HONOR THEM ALWAYS.
Let’s make sure our children and grandchildren never forget him and all the men and women like him.
-Jim Kelley, managing partner at LawLers Barbecue
MY HERO’S A VETERAN
When he wore that bright red blazer and that American flag tie, we always thought it was a bit gaudy. Especially with all those pins on his lapels. VFW, TVA, American Legion, Disabled Veterans, IBEW, and the flags. He gave us all flag pins. Long before September 11th. He was patriotic before patriotic was cool. Nobody else knew.
When he drank too much, he made his wife ashamed. He got loud and he hurt the feelings of those he loved the most. But he always worked. He was a provider. He bore the guilt of coming back alive quite badly. He knew about the demons loose in his mind. He knew he shouldn’t hate God. Other soldiers knew, but nobody else knew.
When the highway crew was working near his house in the hot summer heat, he gathered up his cooler. Then he called his little brown dog, and together they went and filled it with ice and Cokes and Sundrops. A good sergeant gets it done. His heartfelt generosity and gentle manners astounded the workers. Nobody else knew.
When the interstate was backed up with an overturned tractor-trailer rig, he gathered up his wife and the little brown dog. He made cell phone calls to Wendys and Hardees and tried to negotiate price cuts on scores of hamburgers he ordered. He didn’t get a discount, but scores of police and emergency crew did get their hamburgers he bought for them that day. He could and would get it done. Nobody else knew.
When he needed more done in the yard than he could do, he drove and picked up Jesse. He worked him hard and fed him good. Same way he did his men. Took care of him. When Jesse needed more money than he had earned that day, he gladly gave him what he needed for his family. Nobody else knew.
When his buddy in Korea tried to get a warm jacket because of subzero cold and his officers said no, he gave him the jacket off his own back. And when he found out his brother was there too in Korea, he made every effort to get him sent home and did. Nobody else knew.
When he disappeared most every Christmas and became very depressed, no one including his family, could understand why. Memories of thousands of Chinese soldiers marching across lighted battlefields, with old men and women and children shielding their attack filled his mind. The soldiers stepped on and over the dead in their continuing advance. It was almost Christmas, 1950. He had to shoot them. His Army squad and some Marines knew, but nobody else knew.
When the American Legion Pancake Breakfast tickets went on sale, he was first to buy. He smiled down a hundred-dollar bill, not knowing whom he would give those 20 tickets to. He just knew the reason he was buying them was more important than the tickets he would have to give away. The men he really bought them for could never show up. He knew. Nobody else knew.
When he rushed his newborn son by ambulance to Vanderbilt Hospital to save his life, he left behind his own daddy whom he knew was dying. He reacted well under pressure in life and death situations. He was a soldier. He made the decision, he took the action, and he bore the responsibility. He wasn’t there when his daddy died. But he was there when they said my brother would live. His wife and a few close friends knew. Nobody else knew.
When two little boys set the field on fire at Lawson’s Trailer Park, he dropped everything he was doing, with no regard to his own needs or safety, and rushed down and put it out. Duty called. Service needed. His two little boys knew about it. Nobody else knew.
When the same two little boys wanted a new football, he told them to go and buy one on credit at U.G.Whites. We doubted we could do it. He said we could. We peddled our bicycles there, asked for a football on credit, and got it. Of course, he had called to make sure it happened. After all, he told us he knew we could. He instilled confidence. Nobody else knew.
When his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he quietly and determinedly went about making sure she was taken care of. He got all the loose ends tied together. He prepared, like a good soldier, for the day he knew would come. Just in case he left first. And some nights in his bed, he cried. Nobody else knew.
When his heart was breaking over a missing granddaughter, he sometimes drank too much; hollered at people he loved, and spent too much money on legal fees. And sometimes he had hope, and cried with joy. He longed for her return and the rest in knowing she was safe. The missing soldier. His wife knew and his daughter knew, but nobody else knew.
When…and I could go on and on, sharing small random acts of kindness that he did without fanfare or public notice without the desire for anyone else to know. The things he did that he didn’t have to do, that made all the difference when nobody else knew. But indulge me for a few more “when’s”…after all, this takes up little more than a few minutes of our time. A few minutes, that to him and others like him, in hand-to-hand bayonet-to-bayonet combat, in frozen trenches, warmed with the blood of men, a precious few minutes…that must have seemed a lifetime to those who lived, and was to those who died.
When he awoke at 3 a.m. in the morning, day after day, long before the birds or the sun were up, he went downstairs and made himself a pot of coffee. There he sat until daylight in his tattered blue recliner, reading his Bible, making notes in the margins about his kids, his wife, his many blessings, and the weather. He was at peace. His guilt was washed away. He understood. God in Heaven knew. Nobody else knew.
When he got up that beautiful October morning, the leaves were orange and red, like the morning sky. His birds and squirrels were eating the feed he put out every day for them. He used to hunt them. Now he cherished them. His heart was changed. He mowed most of his yard that day, as he loved to do, even though he was 73 and worn out. He quit with just a spot near the turnip greens left to cut. He parked the mower and went and bought my momma her supper. He always made sure she ate. She doesn’t cook as much as she used to now. Recipes have become hard to remember. When he lay down in bed that night, I don’t think he knew it was his last night on earth. I don’t think he had any idea that he would wake up in Heaven. If he did, nobody else knew.
When we made the decision to donate any and all organs and bones, it was an easy one. After all, he was the man who had given the coat off his back away. He would have no problem giving the gift of sight or life. Soldiers sacrifice. It would be the least he could do. All of us gathered in the Family Room at the hospital knew. Nobody else knew.
When we buried him, it was next to the flagpole he insisted Mike (the son he took to Vanderbilt) help him put up just months earlier before September 11th, when it was the only flagpole in the cemetery then. He wanted it flying over his grave he said. The American flag he fought so hard for and loved so much covered his casket. He got his 21-gun salute and his military funeral he always told us he wanted. Taps echoed across the cemetery. And as the old soldier handed my momma that flag, I saw tears in his eyes. Eyes that looked just like my daddy’s eyes that spoke volumes in silence. My momma cried. That old soldier knew. All the other old soldiers who were there for the ceremony knew. All the men who fought along beside him knew. All the men and women who have fought and died for this country in every war knew. We buried a hero that beautiful October morning… my daddy.
Too bad, nobody else knew.