America must never forget its heroes

It's been almost 400 years since a small group of courageous men loaded their families, and what possessions they could carry, onto a small vessel bound for a new life in a strange land. They were tired of the treatment they were receiving from government. They wanted to be free.

No doubt as they prepared for the long voyage, lesser men counseled them to stay where it was safe, the risks were too great. Friends and family probably told the Pilgrims that oppression was not that bad, that freedom wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Lesser men, as they so often do, probably attempted to prevent the brave from following their hearts, from being true to their faith and reaching for their dreams.

Choosing freedom, not safety

Almost 150 years later, the descendants of those early colonialists embarked on a courageous course of their own. They were tired of the treatment they were receiving from government and wanted to be free. Men like Patrick Henry were making speeches saying, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Again, lesser men counseled to play it safe” – oppression was not that bad and freedom was not all it was cracked up to be. Brave men thought otherwise and boldly signed their names to a document that made them rebels and endangered their lives. The efforts and sacrifices of those heroes created a new nation!

Just over 100 years later, this still relatively new nation was again faced with the challenge of defending freedom, but this time on foreign soil. World War I brought out the brave and the not so brave. Lesser men argued that this was not our war, that the Kaiser was not that bad and maybe we should just sit this one out. An active movement in this country supported Germany and recommended that America mind its own business.

The war produced thousands of heroes men like Sgt. Alvin York of Tennessee, who originally opposed the war but nevertheless did his duty. Thousands of Americans gave their lives to ensure that freedom would not perish and that others might enjoy the liberty they loved so much.

Barely 23 years later, our nation again faced a world crisis. A madman named Hitler had embarked on a quest to rule the world. He was well on his way to success when America mobilized to face the challenge.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – in President Roosevelt's words, “a date which will live in infamy” – brought the United States into what became World War II.

The attack on Pearl Harbor produced many heroes, but one stands out for a number of reasons.

Doris Miller's valor

Doris Miller was something of an unlikely hero. His very name, Doris, might lead you to believe that this giant of a man was not a man at all. He was born in Waco, Texas, in October 1919. He was fullback for the Moore High School football team. After school he worked on his father's farm.

Miller enlisted in the Navy in 1939. Eventually he was assigned to a battleship, the USS West Virginia, where he became the ship's heavyweight boxing champion. Perhaps his name contributed to his fighting sprit.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Miller quickly took his place carrying wounded sailors to safety. When the crew of an anti-aircraft gun was injured, he took over their machinegun and fired at the enemy aircraft until he ran out of ammunition.

He was never trained on the anti-aircraft gun, but when he saw the need, he rose to the occasion and did his duty. For his valor Miller was awarded the Navy Cross. His story is even more enthralling when you learn that Miller was the ship's cook!

He was 24 years old when he was killed in action on Nov. 24, 1943.

World War II produced many heroes like Miller, as has every war before and since. Men who, in spite of their own fears, find an inner courage that allows them to make bold moves and take great risks.

Some say the days of heroes are gone. I doubt that. I think they serve in every branch of the service and in fire and police departments across America. They possess some inner spirit that, under the right circumstances, will cause them to risk everything for their country.

As a nation we owe it to heroes like Doris Miller to support these brave men and women who sacrifice their comfort and often their lives to defend freedom. This Christmas we can show them our support by sending cards, letters and care packages. That is the least we should do.