As a kid, my favorite toy was my G.I. Joe. I had one G.I. Joe the whole time I was growing up, and he was what would be known today as a victim of government cutbacks. He had very little in the way of equipment or uniforms, but he made the most of what he had, and never lost a battle, as I recall. He lost a foot during one deployment, and an arm from the elbow down on another. Still, he never complained, and he was never AWOL.
That G.I. Joe was like a lot of our soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen, and national guardsmen today. As a kid, I owed my G.I. Joe a huge debt for the endless hours of freedom he gave me from the real world. We owe our real military a huge debt for the real freedom they provide us. It’s a debt we can’t repay.
My G.I. Joe was sometimes Audie Murphy, shooting Germans from the turret of a burning tank, or Greg Boyington, flying his Corsair against Japanese Zeros in the South Pacific, or John Basilone, repelling waves of Banzai attacks on Guadalcanal with his 1911 .45 pistol. I don’t remember idolizing a singer, actor, or pro sports figure during my youth, but I remember hearing the stories of people who defied the odds, disregarded the danger, and refused to quit. Real heroes.
That’s what my G.I. Joe represented to me. A real hero, a man who kept going no matter what he was up against. A man who was brave, selfless, and determined, despite adversity.
Roy Benevides was such a man, although I never heard of him until I was too old to play with G.I. Joe anymore. Roy volunteered to go with three others and try to rescue a dozen American soldiers pinned down by a North Vietnamese battallion in 1968. He didn’t have to do that, but he did.
Jumping from a helicopter 75 yards from the beseiged position, Roy was shot and hit by grenade fragments immediately. He kept going. Four of the Americans were already dead, the rest wounded.
Roy treated the wounded and managed to drag them, along with the dead, onto the chopper, and then went back for some classified documents. He was shot again, and hit by a grenade again, but managed to get back to the helicopter, which took off but was shot down.
Roy set up a defensive perimiter and called in air strikes, and kept fighting while waiting for another helicopter to arrive. He was shot several more times, but managed to load the wounded on the new chopper before being charged by an NVA soldier, who clubbed him with his rifle and stabbed him with his bayonette. Roy had a broken jaw and both arms were holed, but he managed to kill his attacker with his knife.
As the helicopter took off he shot two more NVA as he was pulled aboard, where he held his intestines in his hands on the 20 minute ride back to base. Blood poured from the door of the chopper, but all eight of the Americans Roy rescued survived. Thirteen years later Roy was awarded the Medal of Honor.
That’s what my G.I. Joe represented to me, as a kid.
Now, retroactively, that toy also represents Taylor Morris.
I had never heard of Taylor until a friend sent me an email in early October, which contained no text; only a series of pictures. A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. These pictures were more valuable than that.
The first showed a handsome young man in Navy whites. The next two shots showed the same young man with a beautiful young woman, obviously his girlfriend.
Pics four and five showed the same young man and a friend, both wearing camo clothes and military gear, in country characterized by dirt, scrubby plants, and poorly constructed buildings.
The sixth and seventh pictures were of the young man in a hospital bed, with the young woman beside him. In the eighth, a cute little boy about a year old sat in the young man’s lap in the hospital bed.The rest of the pictures showed that the young man had lost both legs above the knee, his right hand, and his left arm above the elbow. In those pics, he and the young woman were shown on a beach, on stairs, and at parties. In some, the young woman carried the young man on her back. In most, they were both smiling.
Taylor Morris joined the U.S. Navy in 2007, right out of high school in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and became an Explosive Ordinance technician. He began his first deployment to Afghanistan in January 2012, and in May, while leading a group of Army Special Forces on a patrol, he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device.
Taylor watched his legs fly away while being blown through the air. His first act after the explosion was to tell medics not to come get him, though he was bleeding to death. He was worried they would also step on mines.
Taylor was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center, and became the fifth person to survive quadruple amputation. His recovery since has been phenomenal. He returned home four months after the explosion, walking on prosthetic legs.
Taylor and his girlfriend, Danielle Kelly, have dreamed for years of having a cabin in the woods near a lake. They still plan to realize that dream. Danielle, as much as Taylor, is a hero to me, for the attitude and strength they’ve exhibited through their adversity.
Sunday is set aside as Veteran’s Day. A day to honor those who have served our country, sacrificed their lives and futures, and responded to the call of duty with dedication and loyalty. A day to say Thank You.
We can’t repay the debt we owe our veterans. We can only acknowledge it and let them know we appreciate their gift.
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who would like to say Happy Birthday to the U.S. Marine Corp on their 237th this Saturday. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org