Tears filled my eyes as I listened to him talk. A Vietnam veteran, winner of The Bronze Star, said simply, “I would fight again to defend this country.” Born in a cotton picker’s shack in Alabama, Willie told me, “I’ve traveled the world, I’ve seen people everywhere, and there is no place like America.” Nostalgic, he continued, “Folks would tell me, ‘You Americans are lucky. You are so rich, you build houses for your cars.’” Not long ago, Willie, a student in my night class, came to tell me about his house. “Dr. Eckel, you wouldn’t believe it. I put in a blind bid on a foreclosure home. I put in a ridiculous bid, real low. Out of the blue one day, the bank called to say I owned a new house. They had to remind me about my bid. I was born in a shack and now I live in a house by a lake.” Tears came to both our eyes that evening as we hugged each other, grateful for this good gift.
Sitting in my office last night we discussed what made America different: what allowed an African-American sharecropper’s son to now enjoy his days in a new home? Willie was clear. The issue was freedom. “There are injustices everywhere,” Willie began, “but in the U. S. people are free. I didn’t see that everywhere traveling the world as a young American soldier.” We then talked about injustices perpetrated against people in this country. Coming to a conclusion, Willie reminded me, “Sure, sometimes folks twisted the principles this country was built on. But here in America people are still free. Other places, people don’t like you or what you say, you just disappear. I’m proud to be an American.”
Willie got up to leave. “You gonna’ be here on Wednesday? I want to show you something.” I didn’t want to miss whatever it was. “I’m gonna’ bring in my Bronze Star so you can see it.” I told him I would be proud to see it. “A lot a’ guys,” Willie looked away, “A lot a’ guys, they get this after they’re deceased. But I’m still here, glad to live this life God has given me. I just wanted to share it with you.” Choked with emotion, I couldn’t speak. We hugged again. Before he left Willie said, “It was a privilege to be in your class this semester.” And I thought then, as I think now typing these words, tears streaming down my face, the privilege is all mine. For Moody Radio, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.
Willie stood for a picture with his Bronze Star in my office after our last meeting. Mark stands in awe and admiration for all who have served to maintain America’s freedom.