President Obama is visiting Buchenwald today. And it reminded me of a hero I never knew about. A true American hero. Someone who never asked to be one. This is the life of James Hoyt and Buchenwald…

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You know me. I get pretty worked up about some politician out there and their gang of cronies. They just don’t measure up. They don’t honor those who sacrificed for this country called the US of A. They are nothing compared to true American heroes. They don’t deserve to even stand in their shade. They dance on the graves of those who truly sacrificed for this country. And they dishonor those who saw the best and the worst in the name of America.

I am not from here. I am just visiting. But I want to tell you a bit about a true American hero. And maybe you’ll understand why I think this country has something going for it. And why I get so pissed at some people out there. People who forget what it means to be true heroes. People who forget who the true Americans really are. People who just disrespect the meaning of being American.

What a real hero looks like

What a real hero looks like

James Hoyt was born in Oxford (Iowa) on 16 May 1925. The son of a railroad worker and a schoolteacher. He died in Oxford on 11 August 2008. Oxford is a small little town. About 700 people. And he lived their his whole life. Well, almost his whole life. He once went overseas.

He ranked his greatest achievement as being the Johnson County spelling bee champ in 1939 when he was in eighth grade. He remembered the word he had to spell – “archive”. It’s apt that it means “a collection of historic documents”. Some things should just never be forgotten. Like Mr. Jame Hoyt.

Mr Hoyt was a mail carrier. James Hoyt delivered mail for 30 years in Oxford. He retired in 1992. He worked until he was almost 70. Just a normal guy. Delivering post in little Oxford, Iowa. The furthest he ever got was was Des Moines. The furthest that is, until he went overseas.

James Francis Hoyt Sr. came back to Oxford after his overseas trip and married Doris. Or as he called her, “She’s the love of my life”. They had six children. They lived a happy and loving life together.

James, or Jim as his friends called him, didn’t talk much about his overseas trip. Even those who knew him for many years didn’t know about his trip. But every week he would go to meet his little group. You see, Mr. Hoyt went to group therapy each and every week. Because James suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. All because he went on a trip to Europe.

James went to Europe because of war. James was in WWII. And James was one of the four U.S. soldiers to first see Germany’s Buchenwald concentration camp. With him goes a piece of history. A memory we will never be able to hear from again. He was the last of the four to pass away.

He hardly spoke about that day in 1945. Partly because James was a humble man from a small town in Iowa. But also because of what he saw. “There were thousands of bodies piled high. I saw hearts that had been taken from live people in medical experiments. They said a wife of one of the SS officers — they called her the Bitch of Buchenwald — saw a tattoo she liked on the arm of a prisoner, and had the skin made into a lampshade. I saw that.” He saw a lampshade made from a prisoner’s tattoo…

James didn’t like to talk about what he saw when he was 19.

“Seeing these things, it changes you. I was a kid,” he said.

And then there was the dreams. “I still have horrific dreams. Usually someone needs help and I can’t help them. I’m in a situation where I’m trapped and I can’t get out.”

James Francis Hoyt Sr. was a true American hero. Someone who loved his country. Someone who had nightmares for his country. And someone who kept quiet, loved his family and delivered the post for 30 years. James Francis Hoyt Sr. is a hero.

R.I.P. Mr. Hoyt. I hope you also saw the faces of the prisoners you met that day. Starving and dying and almost beaten and tortured to death. But when they saw you Mr. Hoyt… Oh, when they saw you. Their bodies ravished by the hunger and the pain. But they lifted you up. High up in the air. Throwing you up into the air. Again and again. Because you where there Mr. Hoyt. You came for them Mr. Hoyt. Like you, they never forgot that day. They to had nightmares of those days. But not of that day. That day is the day of dreams come true. Of happiness. Of liberation. I hope you can now see your face in their dreams Mr. Hoyt. The face of a hero. A true American hero. Your life was the life they were waiting for.

I leave you with these words from Retired Gen. Robert Sentman…

“When the prisoners saw Jim, they picked him up and threw him in the air, that’s how happy they were after seeing such horrors. Prisoners had been hung from hooks to die. He saw a lampshade made from a prisoner’s tattoo. Jim carried those horrors with him forever. He never got what he had seen out of his mind. If you ever wondered about Jim, think about what he saw.”

“When you were discharged, no one really gave a hoot about you. It was difficult for a compassionate person like Jim to forget what he saw. He was a hero.”

R.I.P. James Francis Hoyt. Sweet dreams Jim. We will never forget.

What I hope Jim remembered. The smile of liberation.

What I hope Jim remembered. The smile of liberation.

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Note: Only two news agencies reported on the death of James Francis Hoyt Sr. Ask yourself. How many of the news stories you heard this week will you remember in 63 years time? Thank you to CNN for remembering – I used their report a lot and dug around a bit more to find some additional info on Mr. Hoyt and Buchenwald. 

I couldn’t bring myself to post more photo’s of Buchenwald. It is too horrid for this blog. But do yourself a favor – go do a few image searches and see what Jim saw when he was 19 and lived with for more than 60 years.

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I really don’t know where this post is going. It’s about heroes. But not sure… Let’s see.

I was doing the dishes tonight. Cleaning up after I had a fight with the barbeque. Oh I lost alright. The chicken burned and I ran out of gas midway. But that’s not the story.

I was doing the dishes and my lovely wife called me to say one of my favorite telly guys just won an Emmy. Stephen Colbert. Wish you could all see this guy. As sharp as a knife. Remember what he did to Bush in 2006 at the White House Correspondence Dinner? Go have a look here if you get the chance. (It is in three parts so please go look for part 2 and 3. It was worth it. I promise. And what the hell was Bush thinking Stephen Colbert was going to do?) Anyway… That took balls. In the lion’s den and he really went for it. And his show won again.

So I stopped doing the dishes and sat down on the couch to have a quick look at Stephen Colbert. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t make a stronger political statement – he did it later when he joined Jon Stewart and they had a bit of a go at McCain. The old prune. I was about to get up when Steve Martin came on just after Stephen Colbert. I felt like having a laugh so stayed to watch him. And he introduced me to a new hero.

Tommy Smothers. Or Thomas Bolin “Tom” Smothers III as he is sometimes known. I won’t go into details of who he is. (Go here to see more on Wikipedia.) I didn’t know who he was. I was just watching Steve Martin make funny references about this guy. This guy who was going to get an Emmy for a show that hardly lasted more than a season back in the late 60s. Steve was funny, but I was about to get up when he did he speech and introduced the guy. For some reason I decided to stay and listen to what the guy had to say.

Well, maybe I stayed because Steve Martin told us how the show got cut because this guy got a little bit too political on his show. And how the guy didn’t want his name on the Emmy nomination back in the 60s because he thought that the other writers will stand less of a chance to win because of him. Honorable. And then he became my hero.

Just like that. This guy who could have had an easier life if he just kept quiet and did his show the way they wanted him to do it. Who could have had a much more successful career if he just kept his politics to himself. But he didn’t. He stood up for what he believed in. And he still does today.

I give you my new hero. And the words that made him my hero…

“It’s hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing that peace is only attainable through war. And there’s nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action,” he said, dedicating his award to “all people who feel compelled to speak out, and are not afraid to speak to power, and won’t shut up and refuse to be silenced.”

That’s a hero. Someone who knows that there are easier ways. But only one right way. And a hero is someone who picks the right way.

Artists aren’t heroes. They are just celebrities. I like watching people like Colbert and Stewart. But they are paid do say what they say. They are good at it. They entertain me. But will they stay the same if the chips are down? Not all of them will. Bill Maher did. And he lost his job before everyone realized he was right. I don’t always agree with him. But he doesn’t pull punches. And never took the easy route.

But celebrities are just celebrities. Pretty people or funny people or “serious” actors. There to entertain us. Do they have a right to use this media for politics? Of course. They have an opinion and can use their medium just like everyone else. Like me. Like all of us. Just like NewsBusters and other right-wingers. I have no more knowledge than anyone else, but I use “my” medium to say what I want to say. And they have their medium. Some CEO’s use their mediums to influence politics. Why can’t actors? Charlton Heston did. And he is (was) loved by Republicans. Or rather by the pro-gun Republicans.

Hey Ronald Reagan was even voted into the office. And the role he was remembered best for was with a monkey. And no, I am not talking about Bush Sr, although I am sure he met Jr at some stage. And you know how I feel about Reagan. I didn’t like him then and I won’t start liking him just because he is dead. I saw the blood that came because of him. But this isn’t about Reagan. This is about heroes. And he wasn’t one.

After watching Tommy Smothers I was reminded of those other heroes I don’t know. That I haven’t met yet. Those men and women who defend the rights of Tommy to say what he wants to say. The soldiers. Yes. They are my heroes.

They do what is right. What they signed up for. To defend this great country when asked to defend it. To go into war when asked. Not questioning the war. Just doing what they said they would do. And staying true even if they don’t like it or agree with it.

Make no mistake. I hate war. And I especially hate the war in Iraq. There is nothing just about the war in Iraq. But they were asked to go into war by a weak President. And they did. Because that is what they signed up for. To defend this country. Even when the definition of defending is warped through lies and weakness and phantom enemies created by a President who ran away from war when it was his turn. The soldiers didn’t define what it means to defend. They only execute the decision by the leader who makes that decision. And the leaders who support that decision. They are heroes. Even when those who send them to fight a stupid senseless war are anything but heroes. President G. W. Bush is not a hero. The soldiers who fight his stupid war are.

It’s a shame they are not fighting a war to keep us safe. It is a shame that they are just fighting a war someone got them into. A war that has not made the US any safer than before 9/11. All it has done is to raise the possibility of them having to defend this country from more enemies than before. And one man wants them to fight some more wars no one can justify. “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Yes McCain. It might be funny to you. But to real heroes it is real and not funny. But don’t worry. These heroes will fight your stupid wars if you make it to the White House. While you sit in your nice cosy home – any of them. And when you sit there and laugh how you “got” the other guy.

These heroes will die for this country. To defend Tommy and everything he stands for. And they will die for McCain and everything he stand for. They will just do it. Because that is what makes them right. And because that is what makes them heroes. Those soldiers are heroes. Each and every single one of them. Even when I don’t agree with the war they are involved in.

But I also learned something else while washing the dishes. Heroes don’t always stay heroes. Tommy stayed a hero. He only became my hero tonight. But in truth… He has always been my hero. Because he always did what was right. Even before I knew him. That is a true hero. Someone who stays true no matter what. Even when it is tempting to take the easy route. Even when they could make more money or become more powerful if they took the other route.

So tell me Mr McCain… When did you stop being a hero? When was that moment that it happened? Or was it a gradual thing. Did doing the right thing slowly wash off you like a bad childhood memory? Or were you never really a hero? But we met you as a hero. When you took every single thing they threw at you when they tortured you and just stayed true. Stayed a hero. For more than 5 years while a prisoner of war. You were a hero. What happened?

John Sidney McCain III. How did you stop becoming a hero? How did you turn into what you have become? How did you go from hero to Nero? Willing to lie to become more powerful. Willing to torture others when you were tortured. Willing to smear anyone else who stands in your way. Putting yourself above what is right. Putting yourself above those who are willing to defend your rights. When did you become like those who held you prisoner for more than five years? When did you stop being a hero?

Heroes… Heroes never give up. Heroes never stop. Heroes never think of themselves first. Heroes stay true no matter what. To Tommy. You are a hero. To those men and women who stay true to what is asked of them no matter what. You are heroes.

McCain. You are not. You are a hero lost. And maybe that is the saddest part of it all. You could have been one…