The veterans we remember needn't be 'heroes'

While a fresh-faced Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California late in fall 1969, I dropped by the main commissary to pick up some shaving gear.

After grabbing the items, I strode around a corner and was gobsmacked.

Walking down the aisle was a short, muscular Marine who was a 1969 graduate of Eagle Point High School. I knew him because I had wrestled him earlier that year while a senior at Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction.

He was in handcuffs. Standing on each side of him was an unsmiling Marine MP, each with a holstered sidearm.

We stopped and stared at each other for a second. "What are you doing here?" I blurted out.

"I'm getting out — this isn't what I signed up for," he replied, or words to that effect.

After we chatted for perhaps a minute, the MPs marched him off. I later learned that he received a less than honorable discharge. Sadly, he died within a few years of returning to the Rogue Valley, the result of a gunshot apparently fired accidently at a party.

I was thinking about that strange incident at Camp Pendleton while visiting the Eagle Point National Cemetery on Friday. I was there to interview former Marines who are members of the volunteer honor guard representing the Rogue Valley Detachment of the Marine Corps League. They were there to honor a fellow veteran being laid to rest that day. Their story runs Monday morning.

With Memorial Day at hand, you can't help but give some thought to all who have served in the military — living and dead. Of course, the holiday is meant to primarily pay tribute to men and women who paid the ultimate price while in uniform.

There are those resting for eternity at the beautiful cemetery who paid that price. They are the genuine heroes who answered the call to war. There also are plenty of other honest-to-goodness heroes laid to rest in the cemetery.

Perhaps the best known is former longtime Grants Pass resident George Tweed, a World War II veteran who died in a car wreck on Jan. 16, 1989, on the way to the Oregon Coast. He was 86.

A Navy lieutenant, Tweed was the sole survivor of a group captured by Japanese forces who overran the island of Guam early in the war.

For more than two and a half years, Tweed hid on the island, evading capture in the jungle while providing crucial information to Allied forces via radio. With his help, Allied forces recaptured the island in July 1944.

His courageous feat inspired the book "Robinson Crusoe, USN" as well as the movie "No Man is An Island."

Unfortunately, it's now trendy to apply "hero" to every veteran, an application that waters down the word. It's also a disservice to those remarkable veterans who truly deserve the recognition.

We tend to forget that not all veterans are the same. There are a few like Tweed who are genuine heroes by virtue of their demonstrated bravery. Certainly those wounded in action deserve our highest respect.

Among my siblings, four of us were in the military, including my three brothers who are Army veterans. However, only my twin brother actually fought in Vietnam, although two others also served there. As far as I know, my twin was no hero, but he did his duty without complaint.

I remained stateside during my entire hitch. As I've noted before in this space, the only enemy I ever fought in the service was a hangover. But I was a squared-away Marine.

While I don't place much importance in my military contribution, I figure veterans deserve respect because they gave up their freedom and endured the less-than-pleasant duties that often come with wearing a uniform.

They stood lonely guard duty, did mind-numbing military chores, put up with endless inspections and sometimes took orders from someone whose intellectual wattage wouldn't have lit a dim lightbulb.

That's not to say there are not wonderful experiences in the military. You do meet bright, inspiring folks who leave the world a better place than how they found it. You learn leadership skills. You develop lifelong friendships.

I've often wondered why my wrestling friend from Eagle Point didn't flourish in the Corps, since he appeared to be grade A material.

As a wrestler, he was feared. He was the only one to beat me during the regular season that year before the state wrestling tournament. He took second in state while I flamed out.

He was the toughest kid I had ever met, and this coming from someone from an area where being raised by wolves is the norm.

He definitely was not what Marines would have labeled a non-hacker because of an inability to cope with the physical demands.

Perhaps he just needed to learn that no man is an island.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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