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Tuesday, September 16 2014 @ 02:24 AM PDT

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Veterans Day 2012

I wasn't sure about what I wanted to write about this Veteran's Day until I saw this:

Elderly Vets Create Jobs in North Carolina

At times it seems as though there's a push to see the veteran as "everyman" and there is a place for that. But today is when we take a moment to realize that they are a breed apart. Here are eight men who have already served their country honorably, and they still don't think they've done enough. They saw something that needed to be done, and they did it.

I encourage you to support their effort, but more than that, I hope you will see something of that spirit, whether big or small, in every veteran you meet. Some have more to give than others, but all have worked and sacrificed.

And to my veteran readers, friends and family: Thank you. Even when the news is depressing, there is no doubt in my mind that you have made a difference both for our country and overseas. Your sacrifices are not forgotten, and neither are your comrades in arms.

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The Hero Next Door

If we have eyes to see them, there is probably a hero next door...

Check out the Novartis Reflections Campaign for more reminders.

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Happy Birthday USMC

In honor of the USMC's birthday, I'm reposting my "Hero Next Door" post about Marine Captain Wallace E. Nygren's firsthand account of Tarawa.

Hero-hunting is a tricky business. Often they don’t want to be found. That Purple Heart and the chance to go home to their families was more than enough. When I first asked retired Marine Captain Wallace E. Nygren if I could share his stories on the internet, he hedged. Yet four months later, he gave me carte blanche to write anything I wanted to write about him. Why the change? He never explained. I doubt it was for glory. He’d written up his memoirs for his family, and that was sufficient for him. But so many memories flashed in his eyes when I made my request. Suddenly WWII wasn’t sixty-some years ago; he was the young Marine who had survived some of the war’s bloodiest battles and lost one of his best friends. I watched the pain come back, watched him remember the hospital ship slick with blood. And I thought I’d never have the chance to tell his story.

I saw him last week, when I was overwhelmed by the volume of material on his war years. I’d expected to discuss details of the battles and of his friends. But he wanted to talk about family. “All I’d ever wanted to do was be in the military,” he told me, with a wink at his father’s desire for him to become a doctor. “But after the war, I wanted to be a family man more than anything.” And so this Marine hung up his uniform and spent the rest of his life working for Ryerson Steel, providing for the needs and comfort for his wife and two children. Today his hair is thin and grey, his body frail, but he asks help from no one but family, which aggravates the people who love him even while we’re fiercely proud of his independent nature in the midst of this entitlement-focused world. And still he smiles at me and says, “I have no regrets.”

It’s not that there was never a mistake in his life. He hated the short time he spent in medical school, and undoubtedly regretted the month he spent in the Naval Reserve… except for the fact that it convinced him that he’d rather be in the Corps. “The Marines always stood a little apart. They were the best of the best, the most military.” And so the morning after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he skipped work and went straight to the Marine Corps recruiting station, the third man in Chicago to be sworn in.

In April 1942, then-Corporal Nygren was given the opportunity to attend Officer’s Candidate School. He refused, preferring to stay with his unit instead. But in May of the same year, the Marine Corps sweetened the deal: they’d let him come back to the 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Therefore, on July 15, 1942 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, and the next day, he was assigned to duty as Platoon Leader, 3rd Platoon, Company B, 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion.

Fast-forward to November 1943. With ever-increasing responsibility and a promotion to 1st Lieutenant, Lt. Nygren was about to face a day like no other. He survived to write his own account of Tarawa: