The Extraordinary, And Those Who Did It

Today, on Veterans Day, I'm remembering my grandfather, Paul K. Doyle. I get my middle name from him.

Also, my sensuous lips.

Also, my sensuous lips.

Grandpa served on the USS Hamlin — a seaplane tender — in the Pacific during World War II, as well as on other ships servicing Naval aviation. He was a supply officer specializing in supplying Naval intelligence planes. He was not in combat, but he was damned close:

One night I took one of our small boats to another seaplane tender that I was responsible for as aviation supply officer. While I was gone, a kamikaze dove into the side of the ship and right through my room. My roommate was in the room at the time and was very badly hurt. The room was full of sea water and the furniture was upside down. The pictures of Judy [my mother — Ken], mother, and saucy [the dog] had been on my desk in a red leather portfolio.

We still have one of the pictures. The discoloration is from the seawater and liquor (from bottles Grandpa used for "trading purposes"):


Grandpa got the Bronze Star because he was particularly good at anticipating aviation supply shortages and finding creative solutions to them. Grandma says that if you found out, and asked him what he had done, he would say "Oh, I don't remember. Probably won it in a beer drinking contest."


Grandpa would be the last man to call himself a hero, or call himself extraordinary.

After 9/11 it's popular to refer to veterans as heroes. I think that term shortchanges them, unless we remember that heroism is about what you do and about not who you are. When extraordinary people do extraordinary things, it's not remarkable. The exploits of superheroes and the inhumanly able play out on our screens every day. But Veterans Day is a time to remember that ordinary people are capable of the extraordinary. The men and women who have served were just men and women — broken, like all of us, flawed, like all of us, afraid, like all of us. But faced with duty, they stepped up and did astounding things. They endured seas of crushing boredom dotted with islands of sheer terror. They committed acts of jaw-dropping bravery and sacrifice. They volunteered to venture into unknown territory amid danger and uncertainty. They served quietly in supportive roles essential to the things that get on the news. They did those things without superpowers and without magic and without the uncanny abilities or luck of our on-screen heroes. They did them with only the natural gifts that you and I have, and with skills borne of hard work and training — borne of service. They demonstrated by example what we can do if we are willing to commit ourselves to a cause.

Today, we should thank veterans for their service. But we should also thank them for their example.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Pete says

    I always like to remember the story about Queen Victoria instituting the Victoria Cross (the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor in Commonwealth countries) – originally the medal was going to have 'For bravery' along the bottom; Victoria objected "because that would imply only those who are awarded the medal are brave, wheras every man on the field of battle shows bravery"; the medal instead has 'For Valour' on it.

  2. Marconi Darwin says

    After 9/11 it's popular to refer to veterans as heroes. I think that term shortchanges them, unless we remember that heroism is about what you do and about not who you are.

    This! In more than one way.

  3. Craig says

    In the modern world, everybody is a "hero" and every death (except of the "bad guys") is "tragic" because what matters is making people feel good, not communicating meaning or drawing valuable distinctions.

  4. Timothy says

    My wife is a Soldier and she posted this on FB yesterday:

    Why do we needed a holiday to be thankful for what the veterans before me have done? Yes, I'm a veteran. Yes, I've deployed twice. Compared to my brothers and sisters in arms who came before me though, I'm just a Soldier.

    Those vets who fought wars past are heroes and should be treated as such every day they have left. Society shouldn't need a holiday to remind us to thank them for the sacrifices they made for our country.

    Regardless of what the calendar day is, remember their sacrifice. When you see the old man wearing his Army retired hat, struggling to load his car, ask him if he needs help, and then thank him for his service. Make him feel special and remembered.

  5. SPQR says

    A great tribute. Those who served in the "support" services oft get short shrift. For often their conditions were not as onerous as those of line troops, but as the kamikaze incident shows they were often within the reach of danger and for some, their service involved long periods of discomfort and hard work.

    And it was their hard work that was also an important part of the effort.

  6. AP² says

    @SPQR: as a civilian, reading Orwell's Homage to Catalonia made me realize that as I never had before. The lack of proper equipment and training rendered the efforts of the anarchist army little more than futile.

    As for Veteran's Day, I as many of my countrymen have an ambiguous relation with them. Since the last war where they were truly "a side" (as more than part of UN forces) was trying to maintain our colonies during our fascist dictatorship, there's too much shame involved for us to truly embrace them.

    I still donate to our association of veterans, but I can't bring myself to parade in their honor.

  7. Peggy says

    Uncloaking to comment: Thanks, Ken, for the thoughtful and obviously sincere tribute. I am an Air Force brat whose parents met at the end of WWII so that war and those who fought in it were always a presence in my life as a child. Since then, I have come to appreciate all those who served even in the ‘conflicts’ that weren't as ‘popular’. So, with your permission, I’d like to express my thanks to them as well. And, to those who served during the Viet Nam War I’d like to say something that was said to my father when he returned, but not to you: Welcome Home.

  8. Fasolt says


    There is no such award as the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is "The Medal of Honor" or "Medal of Honor". It's a common mistake that often appears in the media and in other places. Congress does not award the medal. The medal is awarded by the President in the name of Congress, hence the confusion.

  9. Allen says

    I was fortunate enough to do a reenactment jump near Nijmegen when I was with the 82nd.

    It humbles me to think of what they did, and what they earned, and I benefited from.


  10. En Passant says

    A wonderful and fitting tribute to "ordinary heroes", the ones who quietly made the difference.

  11. Frank says

    I spent four years in the USAF. None of it during any of our conflicts, unless you count Panama (which the American Legion does). I was one of those "support troops". I was an "Electronic Computer and Switching Systems Specialist", which is the wordy way of saying IT and telecomm geek.

    Alot of times the "support troops" don't really get though of, especially when it comes to handing out "awards". For instance it is extremely rare for a "support person" to get a V on any ribbon. The V denotes Valor and is usually affixed to a silver or bronze star, as well as other awards, in the USAF.

    I am not saying that the "front-line" guys do not deserve their glory and accolades. Absolutely they do. My brother was a front-line guy in the Army before he retired.

  12. Xenocles says


    The Silver Star is only awarded for valor and as such the V device would be superfluous. The Bronze Star is awarded for achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone and can be awarded with the V device to award valor of a lesser degree. The other commendation and achievement medals can also be so augmented, depending on the service.

  13. Steven says

    Not quite immediately related, but I feel compelled to share a story about my grandfather.

    He landed in Italy on November 3, 1943, for what turned out not to be a long visit — on the 9th, a bullet got stuck in his leg. He was evacuated to northern Africa to have it removed two days later.

    The anesthesiologist told him to count slowly, starting from 1. He started well enough, but after the first ten or so he started skipping numbers. The anesthesiologist said, "you skipped some; that's okay, just continue starting with 11." My grandfather said, "Eleven… eleven…" and realized out loud "Today is Armistice Day." The anesthesiologist said, "for you, it is," and grandpa blacked out.

  14. Michael Keyes says

    I have a friend who sent me a note about that same seaplane tender. Apparently his father was one of the seaplane crews who were on board when the kamikaze hit it. Off the coast of Okinowa, I think.
    I'll send him your article and we can see if they served on the same ship.

  15. Nick says

    Funny, my veteran granddad's only lesson to our family about the military was that joining up was pretty much the dumbest thing you could possibly do, but that's probably not surprising from a PoW survivor.

    I always find the glorification of soldiering on veterans day a bit distasteful given how little effort we all put into ensuring that there's fewer reasons to need people in uniform in the first place.

  16. Xenocles says


    I can't find any evidence of that, at least not in the modern era. My sources indicate that the Silver Star takes stars or oak leaves (as the member's service dictates) for subsequent awards.

    You may be thinking of the Medal of Honor, which does take a V for subsequent awards – but that's an exceptionally rare situation overall and totally unheard of since World War I. Actually, nobody has ever worn the device on the MoH in this fashion since that practice was enacted this year and there are no living double-recipients.

    I apologize for the pedantry.

  17. dave says

    As a veteran, I have had a lot of problems with how we treat the word "hero" nowadays. I am so glad you posted this, Ken. We aren't all heroes.