Quiet heroes

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It’s often the quiet, unassuming types that surprise us. In an age where athletes, singers and/or musicians, and movie stars are often hailed as heroes (sometimes by their own publicists or even by themselves), it very easy to live side-by-side with genuine heroes and not even know it. Sometimes the media creates faux heroes for its own reasons and agendas.

Take an outraged 18-year-old David Hogg or an offended 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, put them in front of a national or even global audience and either — or those like them — can become the hero du jour.

Real heroes are often not so loud, so angry, so strident, or so eager to grab headlines. Leland A. Davis was one of those real heroes.

I first met him when I was a junior at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport, Tenn., and started dating his oldest daughter, Mindy. Over time, I discovered that Mr. Davis was a self-made businessman who owned several businesses in the area. He had once run unsuccessfully for Congress, was a Presbyterian, and was a “man’s man,” back before it became popular to denigrate masculinity.

He was protective of his daughter, having informed me that a curfew was just that and don’t be late. He and his wife, Marilyn, had three younger children, twin girls and a boy, who were all wonderful kids. I actually worked for him for a time at Lee Davis Oil Co., after high school. He was always considerate of me and I was impressed by him. Then life moved on.

Born in 1922, Lee Davis died peacefully at home in 2016. Sometime later, I came across his obituary. It was only then than I discovered that Lee Davis was an officer, a bomber pilot, in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He flew 53 combat missions over Europe and was decorated for bravery and valor. In all the time I knew him, he never talked about it, never even hinted that he had been in the military at all.

I knew Dale Fjeran for several years. He was a parishioner in the church I serve and several members of his family also were part of the congregation. One of his sons was a worship leader and actually supervised the construction of our facilities.

Mr. Fjeran was a short, quiet man. He smiled easily and always offered a complement at the end of worship services. Most people described him as a “sweet, gentle man.” In his later years, his health began to fail and the last few years were spent in assisted living.

Dale died a few days ago, hours after my last visit with him. Speaking with two of his adult children last week, I learned some surprising facts about this gentle, unassuming man. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after high school and was assigned as a tail gunner on a bomber during the Korean War. He claimed that the reason he got that job was because he was so short and because few people could fit into that cramped, extremely dangerous, compartment.

After Korea, he returned home, married, raised a family, and earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at Florida State University. He went to work with the Department of Labor and helped in the creation of the Job Corps. He helped start a church in Florida and brought a Christian campus ministry to Florida State.

After moving to Georgia, Dale’s church, Southwest Christian Church, launched Southwest Christian Care, locally known as Southwest Christian Hospice. Dale became its first director. Over the years, hundreds of patients and families have been served in their last weeks and days, including many from my own churches. Mr. Fjeran’s last day was spent as a patient in that very same hospice. He was a hero too.

The chances are that we rub shoulders with such men and women on a regular basis and don’t even know it. These people, who have lived extraordinary lives, appear as ordinary individuals.

There was the butcher in nearby Peachtree City who was a member of the United States Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Navy Seabees, who engaged in violent hand to hand combat with soldiers of the Japanese empire and lived to come home and be just an ordinary guy and a meat cutter.

My wife sees a doctor in Newnan who served as a physician in the Navy and was sent to practice his trade in the Desert Wars. You’d never know, unless you asked him, that he was the recipient of the Bronze Star with a “V” device, the nation’s fourth highest award for valor.

I know of a Navy chaplain assigned to Marines in those same wars that, when his men were under heavy fire, picked up a weapon from a fallen Marine and engaged the enemy. He was recommended for a Silver Star but, because chaplains are forbidden to pick up arms, was given a letter of reprimand and awarded the Bronze Star instead.

There’s a dentist locally who, year after year, quietly took his dental skills to Third World countries and, at his own expense, treated people, some of whom had never seen a dentist before. There are doctors, nurses, and teachers who serve in places no one else wants to go because the need is there.

Throughout the community, indeed, across the nation, there are quiet, gentle, unassuming folks who, if they so chose, could write a book about their lives. But they don’t. They won’t. They don’t see themselves as anything special. And that’s part of why they are heroes.

They did what they did, not for money, or glory, or fame, but because they were called upon to do it or they were internally compelled to do it. When it, whatever “it” was, was done, they quietly moved on with their lives.

Where are all the heroes? They are all around us, content to be invisible, until somebody spills the beans. When that happens, they are most likely embarrassed and take great pains to deny that there is anything heroic about them.

So, the next time you meet that old guy in the nursing home, or see the neighbor across the backyard fence, take a few moments to get to know him or her. You may discover that you have uncovered a hero. And he will probably ask you not to make a fuss about it.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 East, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (Georgia and Tennessee). A Marine veteran, he is the Associate Endorser for U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]