He was a proud old sailor, a veteran of World War II, and he was anxious to tell me about a book written by one of his former shipmates on a destroyer in the Pacific.
I promised my church friend that I would find a copy and read it, but I never did.
Weeks later, I teasingly confessed to my friend that I had yet to read about his exploits and those of the other “heroes” he served with on that “tin can.”
I laughed, but he didn’t.
His eyes brimmed with tears as he told me softly that the real heroes were those young men who didn’t come home.
He said the book was an honest telling of the hellish experiences they shared.
And then he said he had felt guilty because he had lived while so many had died.
I mumbled an apology and walked away with regret that I had been flippant about something so important to another person.
He was deeply respected in his community and by church members. I loved him and his family.
Weeks later, I was sitting in church when my friend’s daughter walked up and handed me a copy of the book.
It was hardbound and had an inscription from the author to his old shipmate.
The daughter told me that the book had become even more important to him after he had learned of his serious illness.
I read the book from cover to cover. It was a terrifying, heart-wrenching account of surface battles between U. S. and Japanese warships.
Near the end, I read that my friend was the only survivor in a gun crew of six men.
I wrote him a letter in which I thanked him for his service and for sharing his cherished book.
I tried to tell him of my high regard for his love of country and for his example as a humble man of God.
He smiled faintly as his daughter read my letter to him in a hospital bed.
He died the next day.
KEITH KAPPES, publisher of The Morehead News, Olive Hill Times and Grayson Journal Times, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org