By Mark A. Wright, HMC(SS)
22 June, 2000

I first saw him on a park bench
I’ve seen him every day
Sitting in a shady grove
Where my children come to play
Sometimes he feeds the birds and squirrels
Or whittles little toys
Sometimes he just sits and smiles
At the laughing girls and boys
And I never paid him any mind
‘Till one day just this year
I noticed that he wore a frown
And on his cheek … a tear.

Well I asked him why he seemed so down
He looked up, began to say
I lost half my friends 60 years ago today
He told me of the terror
As he fought to reach dry land
By the time the beachhead was secure
Half his friends lay in the sand

That was just in one long day
He fought on for 4 years more
And the 60 years from then to now
Have not dimmed His sights of war

He said they have reunions
Just to keep in touch and share
And for each comrade who has gone on
They leave an empty chair

Well, His park bench has been empty now
About 6 months or so
And if I’d never took the time
Then I never would’ve known
That sitting on that simple bench
With bread crumbs and little toys
Was a man who gave his all
To guarantee my daily joys

So give thanks to all the men and women
Who’re still here or have gone before
And made the highest sacrifice
In both Peace time and in War
Because they bought our freedom
Paid their own blood, sweat, and tears
Then endured the heartache of those empty chairs
For all these years

So please do not ignore them
Or speed by without a care
‘Cause you never know
When you might pass by
A hero, unaware

Note by the poet: “The old man in this story is an amalgam of my grandfather who used to sit in a chair behind his house and tell me stories of WWI after I came in from the fields at the end of the day. He was mustard-gassed there, fighting with modern weapons, but using mules. Of Noris Tanton, of Commerce Texas, who barely made it off the ship with his life at Pearl December 7th, 1941. And all the other WWII survivors I have talked to throughout the years. My father-in-law, James Rowse of Wolfe City Texas, who, even though he fought in Korea, graciously considers me a Comrade in Arms because of my Naval Submarine service over the last 18 years. Lowell Clemens, Jim Sullivan, and all the other Viet Nam Vets who I have had the privilege of knowing and serving with. And lastly, all the people like Barry Shay, Thomas Galliher, Mark Heithaus, Patrick Rourk, Marv Mumblo, Chip Green, Chip Sumner, Tony Zilar and the list goes on, that I have served with on Submarines and Surface Ships, with the Marines, in clinics, Hospitals and school for all these years of turbulent peace.

My heroes Unaware.” — Mark A. Wright, HMC(SS)