Memories of a hero :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Memories of a hero

Laraine Bennett

William Etchemendy

My dad was a true hero. He was a hero to his country, his family, and to me.

I can just hear him saying, “Oh, bah!”

And that’s because he was not only a hero, but a truly humble man.

He became an officer in his typically unassuming way, by enlisting in the army and then attending Officer Candidate School. He fought in World War II and the Korean War, was wounded in action five times. He was awarded the Legion of Merit twice, the Bronze Star (twice), the Purple Heart five times, and many other medals.

He was one of the few survivors of the battle at the Chosin Reservoir, where the U.S. military was surprised in the dead of night by tens of thousands of Communist Chinese. Trapped behind enemy lines and completely outnumbered, they fought valiantly, often hand-to-hand. In the end, the only way out was to cross the frozen reservoir on foot, in 35 degree below zero temperatures.

But even before the Korean War, he had made the treacherous landing at Omaha Beach in 1944. As a rifle platoon leader, he fought his way across France to take the Citadel at Saint Malo, fought in the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, and finally ended up in Vienna, where his commanding officer gave him the desk job he didn’t want.

That’s where he met my mom, a gorgeous German secretary who looked liked Loretta Young. They were getting along really well at a party in Vienna when she asked him if he was free the next day. He said “no.”

He was going fishing with some buddies.

He would always rather be fishing. But he drove her home in his jeep and, like a true gentleman, asked if he might kiss her goodnight.

My dad was always a gentleman, always thinking of others. Leaving the hospital just a couple of weeks ago, weak from pneumonia, he made sure that my mom and I went out through the door first.

My dad had a great sense of humor. Whenever my mom was sad or upset, he could make her laugh immediately, with his dry wit. Just a few days before he died, when I was fumbling around in the bedroom, trying to gather up the long tube that went to his oxygen tank, he joked, “What are you doing, hunting for mice?”

He taught me about virtue. He always said, “Never go to the extremes: always practice moderation.” And, in fact, this is Aristotle’s definition of virtue: the mean between two extremes. My dad was a truly virtuous man: brave, kind, and faithful. He always thought first about how he could serve others, never thinking about himself.

Like Saint Joseph, he was a man of quiet faith. He didn’t have to talk about it; instead, everything about the way he lived his life was an example of it. He was a man of integrity, humility, and service to others.

He taught me so many things. One of my favorites was: “Don’t be a spring butt.” This was a lesson in the virtue of humility. I don’t think he ever bragged about anything. Even when he won the National Masters Handball Championship, I don’t think he told anyone except maybe his handball buddies!

He taught me how to drive a stick shift on Rattlesnake Mountain. This was a lesson in the virtue of patience. And you couldn’t find a more patient grandfather, when he played cards with my kids, took the boys fishing, or taught them the secret man handshake:  “we men must stick together!”

My dad taught me how to make picons the way his dad taught him, according to a Basque family recipe. Once, we drove all over the Pyrennees, stopping in every restaurant and bar, searching for a picon punch the way his Aita made them. We never found them. This was a lesson in the virtue of perseverance.

He used to tell the most wonderful stories about all the characters who came to the Overland Hotel and his adventures growing up in Gardnerville.

My dad is surely in heaven now, reunited with his brothers John and Leon, his sister Josie, and his Pop and Mom. I imagine him fishing in the most beautiful lake imaginable, catching endless quantities of fish.

Jesus said "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)." My dad had this great love, for he was willing to lay down his life for his country, and every day in countless ways for his family and his friends.

He was a true hero--a beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, and friend. We will all miss him so much!

Topics: Family , Personal Growth

Laraine Bennett co-authored, with her husband Art, The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse and The Temperament God Gave You, published by Sophia Institute Press. Their new book, The Emotions God Gave You, is due Spring 2011. Please visit their website at

View all articles by Laraine Bennett

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