The many faces of a ‘Tribute to Our Heroes’

By Tom Maglio
Posted 11/6/23

“I appreciate that, but don’t thank me. Thank the ones that didn’t make it home, they’re the heroes.”

This, or a variation of it, is my grandfather’s go-to …

You must be a member to read this story.

Join our family of readers for as little as $5 per month and support local, unbiased journalism.

Already a member? Log in to continue.   Otherwise, follow the link below to join.

Please log in to continue

Log in

The many faces of a ‘Tribute to Our Heroes’


“I appreciate that, but don’t thank me. Thank the ones that didn’t make it home, they’re the heroes.”

This, or a variation of it, is my grandfather’s go-to phrase whenever someone thanks him for his military service. He served in Vietnam, and his constant deflection of praise and honor for his service is something any boy would look up to growing up. Now a man in his mid-seventies, the only clue to the outside eye that my grandfather saw combat in that brutal war is the small POW MIA magnet on his tailgate, faded from years of exposure to the sun.

He doesn’t talk about his service much, a common thing for combat veterans. He does still get a gleeful gleam in his eye any time he tells the story of being heavily reprimanded for going off-base to make some extra money for his wife’s benefit before he was shipped off, or to see his daughter, my mother, for the first time. My grandfather was always a rulebreaker, and he’s never had much patience for authority.

But what he does have is a deep respect and fraternity with his fellow enlisted veterans. What stories he has told me, which are his to tell and not for me to commit to ink, make that apparent. They are always about the men he fought beside, who were lost during service, who suffered through either PTSD or complications from chemical warfare. These are important subjects to him. You’ll find him at a handful of local events to support our veterans—but usually as one of the event volunteers, giving credit to other people who served.

It was his way of thinking that informed my own when it comes to our armed forces, especially around Veterans Day. Brass trumpets, marches and the glory of serving never stirred my heart the way I know it does in some others. For the veteran I admired most, and by extension me, it was a day for quiet reflection and appreciation. It was instilled in me from a young age that those who serve are owed a great deal of gratitude and humility. That they have signed on to experience things so that others wouldn’t have to.

For him, it was about the men and women in the uniform. The people, and the cost. The fanfare and bunting could be for others, but it was never his thing.

In this Sunday edition of the State News, you’ll find our “Tribute to Our Heroes” special publication, as we have done the last several years around Veterans Day. It’s a big gallery of photographs of local people who have served in the U.S. armed services, some photos going back to the early 1900s and World War I. And folks, I won’t lie to you, this project is a bear. Literally hundreds of submissions, with dozens being added every year, with rows of text and photos and moving parts. As the guy who puts it together, my computer nearly gave up on me this week just trying to render all the content to send it to press. My coworkers have been hearing me say it for a month; “Well, ‘Tribute’ is a monster, it takes ages to put together, it eats up the whole week,” etc.

And I’m right. It’s all those things. But each time, as I quality control to check the pages, I feel the same way I do every year. Same as this year. Gratitude, humility, and a sense of connection to the many faces and names I have placed on the page year after year. I’m so glad we did this project, because to me, this is what Veterans Day has always been about. Not a silhouette of a square-jawed soldier saluting a photoshop-enlarged flag, or powerful fighter jets dominating the sky in formation.

It’s about fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, friends and former comrades, and the people who submitted their photos to be honored. And more importantly, to be thanked. They took the time out of their lives to ask for a space to do that, and luckily, we were able to give that space to them. And we thank the advertising businesses and organizations that sponsor these printed pages.

Having been the guy that puts it together, some of these faces that I see year after year make me smile, as if I know them. I know I don’t, but the feeling remains for me. Every time I see Vernon E. Steele (Ret. Msgt., U.S.A.F.) saluting, Or George Shenkle’s grin (Army, and he was there on D-Day!), or Charles Carlisle (U.S.A.F.), who reminds me a bit of my father’s father in his old Air Force photo, it feels like I’m coming back around to pay a visit. Or maybe to pay tribute. It makes it easier to wrangle such a big project, knowing we’re committed to keeping them in, to making sure their faces and names are known.

As a civilian grandson of two veterans, these faces and names deserve a few minutes of our time at the least. Not out of patriotism, which is a good and fine thing to feel. But out of respect for those men and women who took risks most of us never could imagine. Who did it so we would never have to.

To those who didn’t make it home. To those who did and came back altered. To those who stood up and accepted those risks so that others would not. To my grandfathers, and to every person in the Tribute to Our Heroes section, thank you.

Bay to the Beach: Byways is a regular column in which we explore interesting places and projects on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.