Growing up men like Iron Mike were my not just folk heroes, but were real people to admire in my life. From my adopted Grandfather “Easy” Smith (a five combat jump 82nd Airborne trooper), Uncle Walter Betley (WWII Europe, Korean War, Vietnam), Uncle Bernie (WWII), my DjaDja (WWII USN), my wife’s Granddad (WWII), My Father in Law (Vietnam), my Dad (Desert Storm), my good gunner (SSG Thornburg Bosnia/Iraq/Afghanistant), and countless others I dare not forget in my prayers…taught me about what strength and courage really were. I also learned in the peace one needs just as much strength.
Easy Smith, my Airborne Pathfinder friend, told me of his missions and the leadership needed to accomplish them. He instructed me on the personal trials of fire I would face in combat, and what qualities to try and cultivate in myself to prepare for the supreme tests of leadership in combat. I was never a great army officer, decent/honorable but not GREAT. I never faced the test so many of my relatives and friends did. I often wonder if I would pass that test of combat…but in reality my life is still young. The ultimate test could come at any time in this wild wild west world we live in today.
Easy told me of his Army career, and then work on the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. He rehearsed all day, stayed up all night and got very little sleep. The work was exhausting. Like many musicians he turned to alcohol and became dependent on it. He got to the point where one day he had to have a talk with God. He knew he lived or he died based on his reaction to the temptation from the devil he would deliver in bottle. He lived if he left the bottle behind. He died if he picked it up again to drink.
Easy left the bottle forever that day. He became an active man of God. As a God fearing gentleman he mentored hundreds of youth in his third career as a Sheriff’s Deputy in Northern Virginia through baseball, music and church ministries. If you ever visit the E.G. Smith Complex in Manassas, Virginia you will walk on the grass of my adopted Grandfather and personal embodiment of Iron Mike.
The men I mentioned above all fought through war, but thrived without conflict by living out God’s commands in peace. In the list above I know of church councilmen, Knights of Columbus, a man baptized in his Episcopalian faith as an adult, and a non-denominational Christian who raised families with love and taught honor to them. I am proud to know them, learn from their example, and try to carry it on one more generation.
While it would be nice to have world peace, I am not foolish enough to think it will come without a miracle of the second coming of Christ first. Until then I will pray men will continue to be Iron Mike’s in both war and peace. Just as strong to face a bullet as the challenges of peace.