I’m grateful to fellow saint and sinner Michael Mills for sending in some poignant reflections about his personal hero, in response to last week’s post on unsung heroes.  Michael, a pilot in the U.S. Army, agreed to have his story republished below:

In August 1969 I entered the Army’s Warrant Officer Flight Training Program. I had always wanted to be a pilot. And, thanks to the Vietnam War and the need for pilots, the Army waved the college requirements. So there I was, an 18 year old having just graduated from high school being given the opportunity to realize my childhood dream.

I took to flying like a duck to water. I even enjoyed the classroom training. But the military side of the program was very tough. The discipline and harassment were intended to weed out those who were not motivated enough or those who simply could not cut it. Each class lost between 50 to 65 percent by the time graduation arrived.

Around my third month in the year-long training, we had already lost three from my class and I feared I might be next. After all, I was immature. Plus, it was the first time that I had ever been away from my family for any length of time.

One night, out of desperation, I called home. Mom answered the phone. In tears, I told her of my fears and shared how difficult the program was. Suddenly she said, “Let me put your father on the phone.”

“What! Why is she doing that,” I wondered? I mean, I knew my father loved me. I loved him, too. But he’d never actually said as much in words. In the 1950s and 60s men were generally not demonstrative. I wanted a hug from mom, not a lecture from dad.

When dad got on the phone I was still crying. He patiently listened until I had exhausted all I’d needed to say. Then, in that vulnerable moment, he softly said, “Michael, if you want to quit, then quit. If you want to stay, then stay. And if you stay and wash out of the program, so what! You’re my son and I love you. Whether you graduate or not; will not change that fact! You will always be my son no matter what. I’m proud of you.”

As I walked up the stairs to my room I noticed, with a measure of pleasant surprise, that the burden I’d been carrying seemed much lighter. I’ll never forget my next thought, which was: “This isn’t so tough….” I had discovered a brand new paradigm.

Nine months later I graduated with honors and was given my choice of aircraft as a reward, in addition to becoming a Warrant Officer. Mom and dad were in the audience with several hundred other parents and family.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that God used my father to teach me a lesson about unconditional love. And in the process, my father became my hero.

Who’s your hero, and why? What lesson did they teach you that you would not otherwise have learned?  With your permission, I’ll republish your blurb (500 words or less) for the benefit of the rest of us.

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