A lot of little girls say their father is their hero. I was no exception. But my father wasn't my hero because he bought me a pony (he didn't), or because he helped me with my math homework (he did). My dad served in the military for 30-plus years, in three major U.S. conflicts, and has been deployed on countless missions to serve neighbors in need. He does this every day not for the paycheck but because he's passionate about his work and about helping people.
I've only come to truly appreciate my father's heroism as an adult. His hard work and patriotism solidified for me after I saw people my own age, and several years younger, deployed with him to Iraq. I knew my dad would look out for these boys in the desert, just as he always looked out for me.
Over the course of several months, these boys would become just as much his family as I am. He became their hero as well.
Ashley Gillen, Brooklyn, N.Y., daughter of Gary J. Gillen
Sam is my stepfather. He married my mother 21 years ago. Along with my mother came a stepdaughter, two stepgranddaughters and me.
Sam is also a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. Those years were probably a cakewalk compared to the trials and tribulations of this family.
He has tolerated failed relationships, financial irresponsibility, substance abuse and general chaos since taking all of us in. I wonder how he has maintained his sanity. He definitely deserves hazardous duty pay.
Sam was a good sailor, but he is an even better man; without him this family would have been a ship lost at sea.
Jim Bob Mullins, stepson of Samuel Campbell Paterson
My father was born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1892. He came to the United States in 1913 and received his citizenship during the first World War. At the end of the war, he was paralyzed in a German prison camp. Upon returning to the States, he was admitted to a VA hospital and told he would never walk again. Over the next 13 years, between the medical attention and his own refusal to accept this diagnosis, he walked out of the hospital.
On behalf of my father and all other veteran fathers who may have passed away, and all of today's veteran fathers disabled or hospitalized, every Legionnaire should pay tribute to our veteran fathers. Remember that young Irishman who fought for his adopted country, was paralyzed, and fought to walk again.
Jack Donovan, Alabama, son of William J. Donovan
My dad retired after nearly 30 years in the Air Force. He is a great leader who always exhibited honesty and fairness to his airmen. He did not ask anything of them that he would not do himself. He was commended many times for his leadership abilities and gained the respect of not only his superiors but all who came in contact with him.
From my father I learned to respect authority, to work hard for what I want, and to be a fair, honest and good person. Today, I own my own business. I practice with my employees the excellent leadership I learned from my dad. I owe all my success to him.
Dad is experiencing health issues today. I know that someday we will be handed a folded flag that will drape his coffin and hear the shots from a 21-gun salute that will honor him. I will cry and my heart will break, but I will know that my dad will be with God watching over America, as he did throughout his life.
Sherry Stinson Smith, Oklahoma City, daughter of Command Sgt. Maj. Robert L. Snyder
At 82, my father has been involved in more than 600 military funerals. Though he shouldn't be out in frigid weather, he does it because he knows the deceased veteran deserves it. It's difficult for him to find volunteers to fill the ranks for a proper military burial, yet he forges on. He is a veteran who will never let another be buried without honors.
This is a man who is doing what is right for his comrades, not for his own recognition. He is truly one of our last heroes from long ago. There are not many left.
William L. Weger, son of Bob Weger
In 1966 and 1967, my dad did a tour of duty in Vietnam. My mom would often send him recorded letters on a small reel-to-reel recorder. She would record household sounds: the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, my brother and I arguing. One day, I was watching "Batman," the ultimate show for a 7-year-old. I told my mom to record the opening theme, because I knew that when my dad heard it, he would get out of the trenches like in the old movies and kick those communists out of Vietnam.
Meelora Bowers Zerick, Maryville, Tenn., daughter of Col. Wilburn Rufus Bowers
My dad enlisted in the Army in 1942. After basic training as a combat medic, he was sent to the Pacific, where he spent the duration of the war. At Leyte, he was seriously wounded and lost half his left foot.
We didn't find out until shortly before his death that he had a great number of medals coming. Through the efforts of our senator, Dad received the Purple Heart, five Bronze Stars and various others. We are very proud of his service and will always miss him.
Mike McDonnell, Highmore, S.D., son of Leonard McDonnell
Dad's voice as he read us classic children's poetry is one of my earliest memories. Until you hear my dad read "Hiawatha" or "Eletelephony," you have not heard it right. Before he left for Vietnam, he recorded volumes of poetry and fairy tales for my younger sisters and me to listen to while he was away.
He bought a reel-to-reel tape deck in the PX over there and continued to record thoughts from the heart for our family. Every day he was in Vietnam, he wrote letters full of personal advice for six kids ranging in age from preschool to high school.
During the many moves a military family makes, those tapes disappeared. I would give anything to have them back. Thanks to gracious providence, Dad is still with us, and we hope to have him re-record those books of beloved children's poems and stories for his great grandchildren.
He never said much about his time in Vietnam. We're hoping he will open up on tape.
Heather Miller, Commerce City, Colo., daughter of John Alexander McHardy
My father was a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant in World War II. After the war, he became a police officer and, ultimately, chief of police.
Over the years, I have had strangers come up to me and say they joined the Corps after my dad arrested them. He didn't drive people straight to jail; he drove them around town, discussed life, doing what's right and his experience in the Corps.
His lessons were also learned at home. Both my brother and I are Marines, something my mom said was one of the best gifts we ever could have given him.
Anthony T. Martinez, Fresno, Calif., son of John C. Martinez
My father was of the age to have served in Korea but was unable to do so, having lost an eye in childhood. As the youngest of his seven children, I was his baby girl. Through my 16 years in the Guard and reserve, a tour in the Persian Gulf and a 14-month tour in Iraq, my father was one of the most supportive people in my career. He didn't always understand what it was I was fighting for, but he always respected my right to serve, even when he knew it put me in harm's way on a daily basis. My father was proud of my service in the military and shared my latest news with anyone who would listen. He raised me to believe I could do anything, and that I should always treat others the way I want to be treated.
My father was ill when I left for Iraq and passed away two months after I returned. My mother says he stayed alive for me. My only regret is that he is not here to share his pride over his daughter becoming the second of only four female command sergeant majors in the Iowa Army National Guard.
Command Sgt. Maj. Deanne M. Hosek, HHD, 109th Medical Battalion (MMB), Iowa City, Iowa, daughter of Vince V. Neubauer
My father was a World War II Navy aviator, dive-bomber and fighter pilot.
What stands out strongly in my father's character and personality are the values and morals instilled and emphasized in him by his military service. Most outstanding are respect, honesty and preparedness. He taught us by example, not by force. He lived his life with good, orderly direction. To this day, at 85 years old, my military dad exemplifies the old-world charm and grace of a military education, a style that is so often lost or overlooked in today's modern high-speed world.
From my father, I have learned the value of fairness, kindness and tolerance. I have watched as his fierce patriotism is backed by the unshakable belief that the United States and its people are strong and good.
Christine Kulper-Massaro, Sanremo, Italy, daughter of Lt. Anthony D. Kulper
I am the oldest of 11 children. Just before my father passed away 15 years ago, I procured as many cross arrows and other pins of his wartime unit as I could find. I did so in case my brothers and sisters would want to wear them at the funeral. I never suspected the impact those pins would have.
Recently, at a meal with some of my brothers and sisters, I noticed my sister was wearing the cross arrows on her coat. Another wore a small pin that pictures the shoulder patch of the 1st Special Service Force in the center and with U.S. and Canadian flags on either side of the patch. One of my brothers wore a Wounded Warrior Project pin, and his daughter was wearing a cross-arrow pin. Everyone wore some symbol of military service. I was the only person at the table with a single day of active military service. I asked them why they still wore them. Each one said it was to honor Dad and his service, and because when asked about the pins, wonderful memories of him flood back. At those times, it's like we still have Dad with us.
Retired Army Col. Edward M. Kelly Jr., Mesquite, Texas, son of Edward M. Kelly