Pop’s Purple Heart

Sometime between finding out that Santa wasn’t real and faking tooth-fairy allegiance for the dollar under my pillow, I discovered why Gam kept those funny looking Christmas ornaments in shadow boxes by the living room window. And it wasn’t just because the past few trees had been overtaken with handmade cat decor.

They weren’t ornaments; they were Purple Heart awards my Pop had earned while serving in the United States army.

I knew he was injured in the war–but I always kinda figured it was because he got kicked in the face by a mule.


I can remember sitting down next to Pop–in that old leather rocker and those day slippers that he wore around the house, even in the summertime–thinking to myself, “If I hear this story one more time I am going to kick myself in the face.”

While Pop was serving, one of his “other duties as assigned” was to clean the “frogs” (bottoms of the hooves–he explained this to me at least 50 times) of this donkey named Dynamite–apparently extremely well named. Frogs and faces got to know each other quite well. He had the bruises to prove it.

It was a funny story that Pop loved to tell. (Over and over.) But it dawned on me one day that the reason I was so confused about the “Christmas Ornaments”–and why I’d ever connect a literal ass-kicking with an award of any kind–was that he never once bragged about them. Or even explained them. It’s a deep humility that still seeps through the stories of friends and family serving in the armed forces across generations.

Humility carries pride, though. Pop was the one who taught me why there were so many giant yellow ribbons tied to the fence outlining the Dover Air Force Base–followed by a song. He was always singing and great at crooning the classics.

He was the one who taught me how to salute–and why you do it. And how to hold doors and say thank you to someone in uniform. Maybe even buy them a tank of gas.

He was the one who respected our sponsored Air Force Cadet and brother, Sam, from the very get-go. Camaraderie at its finest.

And he was the one who married a lady who rolled up her sleeves and flew cargo planes for the cause.

Today is Memorial Day. And I’m remembering my grandfather and thankful to so many brave men and women who serve our country and our families with a measure of humility that kicks you square between the eyes.