An American Hero Essay, Research Paper
The American Hero
War, defined in the dictionary as the fighting between nations or groups of people in a nation. The term war to me means not hate and death, but history and pain. Looking back into the past, the most influential war that ever took place in the world, was World War II. When thinking about whom I should interview for my report, I could only think about my interests in the war. So I found a man who had fought in the war for two years, and had had many hardships there. My interview was of a man whom had flown in the 101st airborne. His name is Walter Heatherly, a decorated hero of the past.
As I walked into Mr. Heatherly’s house, the first sight that hits your eyes is a nazi flag hanging on the wall. I was astounded to see an American have such a horrible object, as the nazi flag, even in their house. Mr. Heatherly saw my look of astonishment and laughed. He explained to me that the nazi flag on his wall was one, which his platoon had taken during the war. Upon closer examination I saw that around the edge of the flag were hundreds of American signatures. Mr. Heatherly told me he kept this on the wall for two reasons, one for pride, and the other for the mourning of his lost comrades. The feeling of pride he said came from the winning of the war, and the knowledge that you were the big dog in the world. The mourning aspect was in remembrance of his lost friends and soldiers. Upon entering the house and seeing the nazi flag, and learning of its purpose, I knew my choice for the interview was a good one.
After my encounter with the flag, Mr. Heatherly and I sat down to begin the interview. We started with his early days in the war. Mr. Heatherly was involved with what is called the 101st airborne. These were the men whom were the first to go into battle. Mr. Heatherly remembers having one hundred pounds of gear strapped to him at one time. At the start of his career in the war, he was a reserve jumper. He was the reserve for a paratrooper on D-day who unfortunately died. With the death of this man it was Mr. Heatherly’s turn to do the fighting. Mr. Heatherly said that upon receiving this letter, he felt as if his life had ended. His heart had turned to pieces, and his body was full of fright. The letter said he was to jump somewhere in Holland. The Americans were making an attempt to liberate the country and take a stronghold away from Germany. The evening of the jump came and Mr. Heatherly said he felt like running away. He told me that even though he wanted to go home, he said he had a feeling inside that everything was going to be all right in the end. He said the airplane flight was long and slow. It took what seemed like five hours he said, when it was only fourty-five minutes. Once over Holland Mr. Heatherly said he could here loud explosions going off in the air. As he stepped to the edge to jump, he felt a great push on his back. In the air he turned to see who was next, but what he saw he would remember the rest of his life. Mr. Heatherly turned only to see that his plane had been shot and blown to pieces by a bomb. The man who had pushed him saved his life! At this point I looked into his eyes, and tears were starting to form. I could see in his eyes that he felt he had a non-payable debt to society, and whoever had pushed him off that plane would be in his heart forever. This was a heartbreaking moment in his life, he said.
We stopped the interview for about fifteen minutes to get a drink, because I could tell the emotional stress of the past was very overwhelming for Mr. Heatherly. Upon restarting the interview Mr. Heatherly told me something that I could never understand, but will always remember in the back of my mind. He said that once his feet hit the ground that evening in the Holland soil, he said his two years of living in hell had begun. When Mr. Heatherly hit the ground de said he looked around for his entire platoon. No one was to be found, and he was in enemy territory all by himself. He said there wasn’t an actual feeling to describe the fright and confusion, which was turning in his mind. He said he felt like a needle in a haystack. For the next few days Mr. Heatherly walked around Holland looking for any sign of Americans. He came to a village outside of Amsterdam, where he hoped to find food and some shelter. Mr. Heatherly was walking down a cobble road in the middle of the village, when all of the sudden gun shots ran out and the door behind him was full of bullet holes. Mr. Heatherly said at that point he as if felt he was in god’s hands. The gunshots had come from a building on the other side o the street. Mr. Heatherly readied his gun. He ran across the street shooting in the windows of the shack trying to save his life. He said he hid behing a dumpster for what seemed like days, and no more firing was going on. He said he leaned out to look at the building, and he saw American soldiers standing around the house. He said he felt as if a rock had been lifted off his chest, and ran to greet the soldiers. Once he came upon them, he said he saw a sight, which still troubles him today. In the house were two dead Germans who had both been shot Nine or ten times. He then realized what had happened, and what he had done. The shack was made of stone, and when Mr. Heatherly had shot into the windows, his bullets had ricochet numerous times, hitting the men over and over. He said he felt as if he had betrayed himself. He thought about the
men and their families, and what hell he must have caused them. He said at this point he felt like running away, but in the back of his mind he knew there was no escape from the hellish place he had been put. For the next few days Mr. Heatherly said all he could do was sit b himself and think of what he had done. He then told me that this incident was nothing compared to what was to come. This made feel a great sense of sorrow for the children who were put into the situation that Mr. Heatherly was in.
Mr. Heatherly said for the next few weeks the platoon stayed in the town and protected a bridge, until the country had been liberated. Once their job in Holland was done, the men got a two-week break. Mr. Heatherly decided to go to Paris. With all of the time spent in Paris, Mr. Heathery said he felt like a normal human being again. He never had to worry about whom was going to kill him, or who he would have to kill. After the break Mr. Heatherly said, “It was time to go back to hell, and there was no way of getting out of it.” Mr. Heathery and his platoon were sent to a small village in Belgium called Bastogne. Mr. Heatherly asked me if I had ever seen the movie Saving Private Ryan. I said “yes,” and he asked me if I remembered the battle scene at the end of the movie. He said that Bastogne was the battle at the end of the movie, and he had been in it.
Mr. Heatherly said he and his platoon had been in the village for about two weeks, when the outside strongholds of the town had fallen into German hands. The platoon of fifty men were in a village totally surrounded by Germans. Mr. Heathery said that he had no food, and the ammunition was almost out. On July 1,1944, the Germans attacked the village of Bastogne. Mr. Heatherly said that a feeling of death and defeat were running through his veins. The Germans attacked with strong force, using tanks and panzer guns. Mr. Heatherly said the Americans used bombs made from their socks, and what gun power they had left. At one point Mr. Heatherly and his best friend were in a foxhole, when the Germans discovered where they were. The next event would be one where the smell and taste are still with Mr. Heatherly today. His friend stood up to throw a bomb at the tank, when Mr. Heatherly heard a loud explosion, and then a wetness all over his body. He looked down to see that all of his clothes were red, and only half of his friend was in the foxhole. Mr. Heatherly said a newfound hatred for the world entered his mind. He ran out of the foxhole, and blew the tank up by himself. He said the battle lasted about six hours, and the Americans with their will to live beat the Germans and held the town. This day of fighting was too much for Mr. Heatherly, and he felt it was time to go home.
After the battle Mr. Heatherly was allowed to go home due to an injury to his hip. He said he had no idea what he was going to do with his life at that point, he had seen and learned so much. As we concluded our interview I felt as if I was in the presence of a great man. He fought for his country, saved the world from a horrible end, and came back to America and lived his life to the fullest. I figured that there was only one definition for a man like that. Through my interview with Mr. Heatherly, I learned the true definition of an American hero.