That’s because it is one synonymous with other familiar terms like “veteran,” “hero” and “community servant.”
An analogy we have used in past editorials goes something like, “Certain awards seem destined for certain people.”
Bill Norwood is one such person. The honor he received at Monday’s Memorial Day Ceremony on the Bradley County Courthouse Plaza in historic downtown Cleveland is one such award.
The huge crowd of local patriots who attended the annual observance smiled in appreciation for the former Korean War prisoner who was presented the inaugural Veteran Service Award, a tribute given to a deserving Bradley County soldier by the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council.
Their smiles grew even wider when the humble Norwood stood before the podium. He thanked those who remember the sacrifices made by America’s war heroes — those who lived and those who live only in our memories. And he refused to call himself a hero. Instead, he described himself as just a “country boy” from Bradley County who loves America.
Norwood said it best Monday while accepting the STVHC award.
“This is a great honor ... I’m not a hero,” Norwood told the assembly that had gathered along the Courthouse Plaza on a beautiful holiday morning. “I’m just an old country boy from East Tennessee who happens to love his country and his fellow man.”
He reflected on his war years and the torment of serving as a prisoner-of-war.
“I remember those days, weeks, months and even years that I struggled for survival as a prisoner of war,” Norwood said while cradling the STVHC plaque. “I would often look around me at the deplorable conditions. The pain and suffering and the despair, and I would ask myself, ‘Is the end result really worth all of this misery? Does anyone really care? I wonder if anyone will remember?’”
Looking across the faces in the crowd of friends, loved ones, fellow veterans, downtown businessmen and all others who understand the challenge in protecting America’s freedom, Norwood admitted they had filled his heart with the answers he needed to hear.
“... You have answered my question here today by presenting me with this prestigious award which makes me think, ‘Yes, there are those who care ... there are those who still remember,’” he stated. “Thank you for this honor. Thank you for caring and most of all, thank you for remembering.”
Truly, it is America who should be saying “thank you,” not just to Bill Norwood but to all veterans who have given their best to keep this nation at her best.
Truly, it is Cleveland and Bradley County who should be saying “thank you,” not just because of the work of men and women like Bill Norwood but because of the legacy they will leave a community and our next generation. It is one of love for country. It is one of pride in American ideals. It is one of passion for life, liberty and the freedoms shared by all who consider themselves guardians of a land where no man oppresses another.
Truly, it is friends, loved ones, acquaintances and total strangers who should be saying “thank you,” not because it is an act of political correctness, but because it is the right thing to do by appreciative Americans who should recognize the meaning of true heroism.
Truly, it is everyone — not just a few, not just him and not just her — who should be saying “thank you,” not because these are wise, aged veterans but because these are old soldiers who will one day fade away. And as their image blends into a panoramic sunset, it is their memory that we should preserve.
We know of no deserving Cleveland nor Bradley County veteran who has ever sought to be called a hero.
But we know of hundreds, we know of thousands, who have earned the title without the asking.
But a title is just a title. If a man or a woman is to be considered a hero, it is not the word that makes it so. It is the deed. It is the moral conscience. It is the sense of responsibility. All are reasons our proud nation remembers its own on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day and Armed Forces Day, among other occasions of American pride.
Most importantly, it is that which beats beneath the title ... that which fills the uniform and gives a face and voice to those whom we honor.
It is the heart of the veteran, ever beating ... even after he has given his final salute, even after she has offered her last goodbye ... that truly defines the word.
Thank you, Bill Norwood.
Thank you, to the best our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown has to offer.
Though you do not seek to be called hero, it is an image we will forever hold dear — not just today and not just tomorrow, but well beyond as your life and your times fade softly into an awaiting sunset.