Monday, July 11, 2011

Tears in his beer

Sunday night most certainly will be one of the highlights of this trip. My cousin Leroy, his dad and brothers, another cousin, me, Leroy's platoon leader and some members of the armed services whom Leroy had met earlier in the day joined for a beer (or two or three) in the hotel lounge. It was a group of guy's guys and we acted as such — making inappropriate jokes, telling crude and memorable stories and finding any and every excuse to make fun of one another. The testosterone level was on high.

Leroy seemed to enjoy hanging out with the guys and escaping for a few hours the pressures that go along with being a Medal of Honor recipient. But shortly after last call, Leroy had to retreat to his room to shine his shoes and fine-tune a speech that began with the phrase, "Thank you, Mr. President." Soon, I found myself in a conversation with my cousin Lloyd (Leroy's older brother and a former Army land surveyor) and a rather entertaining Marine, who was loud, abrasive, quick with a joke and by this time, a little tipsy.

The Marine, who had met Leroy only a few hours prior, spoke to Lloyd and me about my cousin's humbleness and high character. And he said he tried to treat Leroy like a fellow solider; not as an amputee, not as a Medal of Honor recipient. Lloyd and I both reassured him that Leroy appreciates that. Anybody who would put Leroy on a pedestal above his fellow Rangers is someone I'm sure my cousin would not want in his life.

Then, the Marine's eyes teared up as he told us how honored he was to have a beer with Leroy. He told us that Leroy's actions on the battlefield will give him strength and inspiration the next time he is in the trenches. By this time, the Marine was trying hard to hold back the tears, but wasn't succeeding. He gave each us a big hug before calling it a night. Lloyd and I have each heard our fair share of poignant compliments about Leroy. But this one meant a little bit more. It made me realize a bit more the gravity the medal carries. It can bring a grown man to tears.

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