In my career, I have been blessed to tell the stories of scores of people – from a visit by the President of the United States to Special Olympians, firefighters, marching band members, politicians, civil service and more.
Not all of those stories were earth-shaking; in fact, most of what I write about and photograph is very “normal,” just people living their lives. While I find many of those people to be extraordinary and their actions inspirational, others might not see it that way.
What is certain is that in the last nine years, I have seen much more good than bad – and for that I am both thankful and encouraged. It tells me that even when our world may seem to be at its worst, there is much more to be happy about than maybe we realize during our everyday grind.
Those high points – well, I can name several people through the years who have stood out, individuals and families who have been a living example of the best of all of us. People who have sacrificed, who have given of themselves, who take the hits but come back with love and honor rather than hate and anger. I could write a column about each (and I have about some; perhaps I will about more soon), but there is one who I would like to honor today.
His name is Lee Roy Chesser, or rather “Lee Roy the Bad Boy,” as he told me when I met.
This bad boy is all of 93 years old, a World War II veteran whom I had the honor of interviewing for a recent Mustang Times story. Lee Roy inspired so many feelings for me – he really is so, so funny, but he is also kind and warm, a man who has lived a life that has brought joy to others. He certainly did that for me.
Lee Roy’s story is, in a way, very similar to that of my own father’s. He grew up during the Great Depression and came to age during arguably the biggest conflict the world has ever known, World War II. After surviving that experience, Lee Roy came home, married, worked hard to support his family and now spends his days enjoying every day.
My dad, too, was a Depression child and served in the Merchant Marines in World War II, just like Lee Roy’s friend Bill Owens. He worked hard the rest of his life and never forgot his roots. But, in a way, that’s where the similarities end.
That’s because Lee Roy saw combat, real combat, as a medic who was part of the history of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and service in France, England and more. He saw men die; he helped many more live. It was something that could have broken him, but instead it inspired him – to live life fully and gratefully.
It’s a lesson we all can take to heart.
“I thanked God that I was able to return to our wonderful land,” Lee Roy said. “We saw the destruction, the awful devastation in England and France and people here had no idea how lucky we were that we didn’t have to go through that, how much those people went through and endured – Americans don’t often remember how much we have and how blessed we really are.”
Lee Roy is a blessing to everyone who’s known him. I know he’s a blessing to me, and he’s made me a better person for having the chance to be around him.