Veterans Day – A Salute to Real American Heroes

We live in an interesting generation. Many take pictures of ourselves and post detail of our daily lives. Telling the world all about our latest achievements. However, there is a single day to put aside for those who served all of us.  It is Veterans Day.

What is Veterans Day

On Veterans Day, we honor and remember those who stopped their lives for all Americans. These individuals took time out of their lives to lend themselves to our country. They served all of us. This is a sacrifice that must not be lost in the daily occurrences of everyday life. On this day, we stop to remember the men and women who died for our freedom. On this day, we honor our veterans – old and new. The date is November 11th.

Veterans day is a great day for celebration, parades. Honoring veterans and those who have veteran family members.  We should understand that the entire country should thank them for the great sacrifice they made for our republic. Remembering those who died, injured on the battlefield, or in service to our country. Some made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we all sometimes take for granted.

Veterans day started as a remembrance for World War I  – It was called Armistice Day. Later it was changed to acknowledge all veterans. We set aside a moment to recognize the sacrifices of the people who served and are serving our country. The celebration has repeated the world over, and it takes place on the 11th month – the 11th day at the 11th hour. At that precise moment – the world takes a moment of silence. Since that time, It has become an all-encompassing day known the world over as Veterans Day.

Honoring Heroes Who Served Our Country

However, we must also not forget the individuals that made the ultimate sacrifice. They have served our country, and there cannot be thanks enough for their sacrifice. This is a debt that cannot be repaid. The only way to repay this debt is to ensure that we maintain the freedoms they fought to defend.

We also need to acknowledge that there are some still with us from the group of the greatest generation soldiers. Each year their number diminishes, and their stories may be forgotten. These young men stormed the beaches of Normandy to fight oppression and fascism. They fought, and many of them died fighting one of the most oppressive regimes the world has ever seen. They fought for our freedom.

Lastly, we acknowledge those among us, that did not fight in a large war. Those who also served their country, and its people with distinction.

We live among heroes every day.  Men like my son Michael or my Uncle Phillie, and many others like them that we all know and love.

My Son – An American Veteran

My son Michael DeLuca is an Air Force veteran.  I am proud of his achievement and service to our country. He is a great young man, and he may understand, but he may not totally comprehend the pride his mother and I share for his sacrifice for our country.

Thankfully he returned home safely. He has become a great, humble and responsible young American, working and achieving the American dream. To his family members and us, Michael is a hero. Like many I know he does not boast about his achievements. He is a proud American hero. If this has not sunk in, he might as well read it here. I believe that Michael is a hero to us and to our country. I am certainly proud of his achievements!

My Uncle Phil – a True American Hero

Among those men was a quite nondescript young man. His name was Phillip Chiarelli. Like many of the soldiers that day, he was someone who would NEVER volunteer to anyone who knew him, and say he was a hero. He did not wear a big S on his chest, nor was the word hero bandied about when talking about him. But he was a hero by the pure definition of the word.

Growing up next door to to Uncle Phil. He was “daddy” to my cousins Angie and Carmella; To their children (Anthony, Phillip, Tina, and Rosa), he was Gramps.  To my aunt Millie, my mom and the rest of the family – he was “Phillie.” I called him “Uncle Phillie” – “UNC” for short. Growing up I didn’t know about his fight for our freedom. For most of my adolescent life, I had no clue about him.  He was my favorite uncle, a man I loved like my own dad. I was proud of him and adored him. I may have grown taller than him, but I still looked up to him. Like my father he epitomized the word HUMBLE. Having those two as bookend role models, no one could ask for any better.

A Real Life Hero

Uncle Phil did not go on to college and become a multi-millionaire. You won’t find him as a chapter in history books. Phil worked for the local utility company as a regular worker. (Like Superman, you might say he DID live the life of a Super Hero – but the Clark Kent side only).  After the war, this mild-mannered worker lived the American dream, he never aspired to be more than just who he was. This was enough for him.

By no means did they (my aunt and uncle) live a life of luxury. I never saw them go on vacation – EVER!!! I think he and my aunt saved everything and lived for one thing – to give a better life to their children and grandchildren (noble in and of itself). The weddings for his daughters were affairs like weddings of princes and princesses. As a young man I was lucky enough to be invited. I still remember the food at Leonard’s of Great Neck to this day – I never imagined anything grander.

Then came his grandchildren – oh, he loved me… I was “Frankie,” and he was proud of me in ways I could never appreciate until now – (it is with tears in my eyes that I remember him). But to his grandchildren, he will always be the greatest.  I was lucky enough to live next door to him for most of my childhood, so I understand what it meant to spend almost every weekend with them. Now that I have grandchildren I understand his love. What a man! A great capacity to love!

What Does a Hero Look Like

I think my cousins Anthony and Phillip would say they probably made, in less than a quarter of the year, more than what he made in his entire lifetime. They could of course, because of the sacrifices he made, the life he lived, and the person he was. I know how much all of them loved him. They will  point to the values he gave to them. But most of all they loved him because of the person he was. I must say this… Never in my entire life did I ever hear of a single soul that did not like Phillip Chiarelli. Knowing him for about 45 years of my life, I never heard him utter a negative word about anyone. He died almost 20 years ago, and I still admire him for who he was and how he lived his life.

Phil always had a beautiful broad smile, always encouraging, and would  never talk down to people. Witnessing people who sometimes talked down to him, I thought that they were idiots without a clue to whom they were speaking. These are people who judge individuals by their social status – stuff that meant nothing to my uncle, nor my father.

In the neighborhood – Phillie – was there for ANYONE and EVERYONE who asked. Picking us up or driving us to school on days it rained or snowed. He was the first responder in case anyone needed him. He was my mom’s rock when my father passed away. He was always there for the love of his life Aunt Millie, and of course, his daughters and grandchildren. I know – I witnessed it. He was a man who was the signature standard for GREATNESS. One who did it because it was who he was, it was what he expected of himself, and he lived according to his word.  A man of great integrity.

How The War Impacted Him

He did not fondly recall that time. I know it was terrifying. He felt good for serving his country. But it was not something he had aspired to.  For some reason he confided in me.  He only told me about 1% of his heroic deeds.

Hearing  the story about saving a can of tuna fish ration was the most striking story. He saved the ration, just in case he needed it. He recalled the date of June 6th 1944. Worrying through the night,  he ate it… Believing it was going to be his last meal.   I remember we went to see the film “Saving Private Ryan” together.  Knowing what to expect that evening, he went with me anyway.  I asked if it was accurate, because he was there.  Responding quietly and sadly – “Yes, if a picture could capture the visual – but it could not show what we felt – our fear.”  That was about it… Never speaking about losing friends in any detail… He spoke briefly with only little tidbits, but I could tell he felt blessed to be here, and never regretted anything he did.

I wanted to take him to Normandy –  I offered to accompany him on the 5oth anniversary.  He declined.

“Too painful,” he said.  I wanted to take him to the Veterans Memorial in DC, but I didn’t get the chance because he passed away, before we could visit together. (A regret to this day). I did however personally call him every Veterans day for over 30 years since I was a teenager – no matter where I was in the world (when I finally realized his contribution). My aunt – always told me that he looked forward to my call and that I was the only person who made that call to him.

My Uncle’s Place in History

I didn’t know what Uncle Phillie did in the war, until I sat with him one day as a teenager and asked. He knew I loved history, and he loved it too.  He had a great knowledge of the facts and others who were not as close to him never knew that about him.  As I got older, he shared and opened up more, feeling I was ready to hear the message and the pain it caused him.

At his funeral – his friends told me stories that highlighted him not just as an ordinary HERO – but an extraordinary HERO… They recited this story to me:

Phil wanted to help the starving children in an orphanage in a town surrounded by the German Army. Requesting food from each of his friends and others in the regiment,  he took off his uniform. He  dirtied himself  and crawled behind German lines to deliver the food to the starving children. Phil could not watch anyone suffer.

What he did is not just heroic, it was LEGENDARY HEROIC.  These are stories that in the past they wrote and sang songs about.

Phil was not your bulked up brazen young man.   If anyone was not the prototypical hero – it was Phil… But I know for a fact that he was loved by the guys in his regiment. They told me during his funeral about what he meant to them. Realizing after he had gone what a great man that he was.  They also said to me that they were happy to meet his nephew Frankie and that he had always spoken to them about me. These were things he would NEVER tell me and would be embarrassed if he knew I had found out.

Heroes Bring us Freedom

When talking about a hero, we must ask ourselves. Who are they? They certainly aren’t sports figures. Those are people who can play a game. They are not politicians, or captains of industry. REAL HEROES are the regular guys like my Uncle Phil, or son Michael. They are people who put their lives on the line for all of us so that we could live in freedom. Some of them never came back, some of Uncle Phil’s friends never came back. Others came back without arms or legs, or with injuries that they carried their entire life. Phil said to me, he was lucky – lucky that he did come back!

You know freedom is an elusive thing. When you’ve got it – you don’t think about it. When you lose it – you may never get it back. The beautiful thing about Uncle Phil, and others like him on that day: they made sure they fought for IT!

They weren’t fighting for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. I feel sad that many do not understand the sacrifice they made on behalf of all of us.

I know for a fact my uncle is in Heaven. Just by the way he lived. He is an angel doing God’s bidding, with my dad, and my recently passed mother. Enjoying life in heaven, and making sure all of us know they love us.  THAT is what angels do… It is what heroes do. That is my Uncle PHILIP CHIARELLI. Thank you, Uncle Phil for being part of an extraordinary generation whose values we could never equal. I know you did not do it for reward or for recognition. You did it for all of us – you children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens.

Happy Veterans Day

We are not a perfect nation, we have made mistakes, but we are a nation of men and women who strive to do it right. When things are not working, we work to fix them.  That is the symbol of our flag – it’s people.  All of the people.  I do not forget that, and I never will.

Happy Veterans Day to every veteran out there. Your sacrifice is appreciated and noted.