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Three stories of quiet heroes in our midst

May 26, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Two weeks ago, I asked readers to tell me about veterans of the U.S. armed forces who'd made a difference in their lives.

I wasn't looking for war stories, because the real heroes usually don't talk about what happened on the battlefield. But in my experience, veterans keep on serving even after they're discharged.

They work as youth league coaches or volunteers with local service clubs. They raise their families and live in a way that makes the communities where they reside better places.

I was so eager to hear these stories that I promised that I would give those who shared the 10 best tales a free American flag that will fly above the Antietam National Battlefield as part of the "Healing Field" project.

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On the Independence Day weekend, on a site next to the battlefield visitors' center, 3,031 flags - one for each person killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks - will fly for three days.

Then, they'll be sold as part of a fund-raiser planned to help another group of casualties - the victims of child abuse in Washington County.

But for reasons I'm not aware of, I didn't really have to sift through the many entries I thought I'd receive. Only three arrived, though I'm sure there are many stories out there to be told. Perhaps, as one of my colleagues said, people were too busy with spring chores, such as mowing, planting flowers and going to Little League games to respond.

One who did was Mary Ann Bowers of Hagerstown, who wrote of her brother, Donald J. Houser,

"In 1950 I was just graduating from high school when my brother was called to serve in the Army."

Houser was deployed to Korea where he served three years in what Bowers called "the see-saw war."

"I realize he was just one of the 350,000 troops from the United States and he was one who did return home, but never has he complained about serving his country."

Now in his 70s, the father of four is a successful dairy farmer, she said.

Bill Sterner of Hancock wrote to tell about his stepfather, Bill Somerfield, who died in 1993.

Sterner described looking at the medals his father earned while stationed in the Philippines during World War II.

"Most impressive was the star for valor he received. And as his son, I was shocked to say he never uttered a word about this award in all the years we sat and talked while I learned from him how to grow into a man.

"Then I remembered - one of his favorite sayings was a quote by Henry David Thoreau: 'The hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men.'

"And then it all made sense. I never knew my real father, who passed before I was 2, and with two sons of his own, Bill Somerfield, my dad, raised me as his own when he didn't have to. I can only hope I am one-hundredth of a hero to my own three children."

Sharon Clevenger wrote about her father, Ernest Kunz, who has also passed away.

Kunz's own father died before he was born, she wrote, and growing up was not always easy.

"I know you were 18 when you married mom and went into the Army Air Corps, where you were paralyzed in a training accident."

After staying in bed for a year, with weights holding his head immobile, Clevenger said that the weight mechanism broke and left her father bedridden for another year.

When he finally was discharged, Kunz's father-in-law and brother-in law carried him upstairs and later helped him learn to walk again.

"I remember you always going to work in the morning. And mom at home with us. You always supported the family and mom supported you."

That's what I was looking for - the stories of veterans who took what life dished out and still persevered.

In honor of those stories, I will deliver "Healing Field" flags as soon as they're available. But I still have seven flags left.

As many veterans as there are in Washington County, there must be more stories out there. I'll give you until June 1 to get them in, which should be enough time, since the Memorial Day holiday is this coming weekend.

Send your story to A Flag for a Vet, c/o Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, MD, 21740, or e-mail them to opinion@herald-mail.com.

For more information on the "Healing Field" project, call the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse, at 301-791-2224.

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