For Memorial Day: What the Superheroes are Wearing

May 25, 2014 | 7 comments

Not all of the superheroes wear capes and masks.

I know. Because I’ve watched them when they show up at cemeteries on Memorial Day, standing over top of the graves of old friends.

Some of them have gray hair. And dentures.

They are wearing polyester pants, button-up white shirts and navy-blue hats, trimmed in gold. They are grandpas, and retired farmers, and members of the church choir.

These are the real heroes, and they wear courage. You can take the man out of the uniform, but you can’t take the uniform out of the man. It’s a part of who he is, I tell you.

They also wear pride.

Not the kind of ego-inflating pride that makes your stomach churn, but the kind that makes you want to put your hand over your heart. Or bow your head in thanks. Because you know that you wouldn’t be able to call this the Land of the Free, if this weren’t also known as the Home of The Brave. You can’t have the one without the other.

American soldier with flag

Some of the superheroes still wear their camoflauge. At night, they stretch out on their backs, looking up at the twinkling sky, while missing the way it feels to hold their wife, or their babies. They pray that they’ll get to do that again someday, Lord-willing. They know that some of the heroes don’t get that chance. They may be superheroes, but they don’t have superpowers.

They are, after all, mere men.

And women.

Yeah, some of the superheroes wear skirts. And Maybelline. And from time to time, they’ve been scorned by people who have wagged fingers at them, saying they ought to stay home, instead of gallivanting around the globe.

They served anyway.

female soldier

For most superheroes, their uniforms have long since been relegated to the backs of closets.

This is what they wear:
Pressed pants on Sunday mornings. Oil-stained hands. Levi jeans at the factory. Some wear prosthetic limbs. Some wear the marks of war … horrific memories that they couldn’t discard in foxholes or on desert fields.

For them, and for all soldiers, there’s nothing quite like these six words — “thank you for serving our country” — to show deep appreciation for their sacrifice.

I remember what one hero wore. His name was Paul Lee.

I remember his red Christmas sweater. And his work boots by the back door at the farm. I remember how he wore a cap most days, but he combed down his hair smooth on Sunday mornings.  I remember how he’d sit cross-legged for tea parties with my girls, his granddaughters.

The real superheroes aren’t afraid of being small. They aren’t too proud to wear the princess crowns that little girls put on top of their heads.

The last days, that superhero wore a hospital gown. The leukemia came on strong, and the folks at the VA figured he was one of the old soldiers who — 40 years later — were getting sick from Agent Orange.

I remember how that nurse in the hospice house leaned over his bed on his last day on Earth, with the afternoon sun streaming in on his sheets, and she said these words to him: “If I don’t see you tomorrow, Paul, I just want you to know how much I appreciate your service to our country.”

Like most soldiers, he didn’t go down without a fight. But on a January morning, they draped an American flag over his casket. We walked out of the back of the church behind the pallbearers with tissues balled in our fists. And some of those guys with the white button up-shirts and navy-blue hats were there, too.

Paul Lee’s tour of duty had ended. And they came to help all of us give proper thanks. They folded up the flag into a triangle and handed it to his wife.


These are the words I revisit every year… as we visit graves and pay our respects… One year, little Chase Lee, went to the Memorial Day service with us. He wore a silky blue cape and mask. Chase never got the chance to know his grandpa, who would have gotten a kick out of this small child who wants to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

I do wonder, now, if Chase Lee knows that he’s the grandson of a superhero.

by | May 25, 2014 | 7 comments


  1. Gretchen

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute to our soldiers. Your words and story expressed so perfectly the feelings that so many of us have for our military but fall short trying to express. My admiration has multiplied over and over again having a son-in-law in the army. At first my pride in him was based on his graduation from Westpoint and his rank. I have learned so, so much! The men and women I have met and watched and followed are of a different “breed” than the rest of us. Intelligent, articulate, courteous, caring, loyal, determined, sacrificial, duty bound. I could go on and on. Our civilian society could learn so much about how to treat people and honor our country and themselves by really getting to know a military community. They are our heroes…and the ones who are fallen truly did lay down their lives for one another and for the freedom our country upholds. I had to share your blog post today on fb. Such an inspiration!

  2. lindalouise

    This is so touching Jennifer. I live with a couple of superheroes – my husband and my Dad. They would never lay claim to that title, but we know the depth of their sacrifice. My Dad walked the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and my husband walked the jungles of Vietnam. We are proud and grateful.

  3. Mindy Whipple

    Just beautiful…My Grandpa is in a nursing home now and his memory looks back often to his days served. He and another resident share a respect for one another by a salute when they pass in the halls in wheelchairs and walkers. He was an army man, my Dad the Navy and my uncle the Airforce. Superheroes indeed!

  4. Pat Baer

    I parked near a cemetery today to watch men and women in uniform place flags near specific gravestones. They moved slowly but oh so upright. In their pressed shirts and shiny shoes I could tell they were enjoying the camaraderie and memories unique to the life they each shared. It was heartwarming and moving. Thank you for helping us remember so beautifully today.

  5. Pat Aho

    I have 2, a daughter and a son who served 6 years in the Navy during the war on terror tho’ never in a war zone. They served quietly behind the lines in jobs that provided back up and safety for those on the front lines. Love my veterans.

  6. Katie Kump

    Deep gratitude from this Army wife. I’m never more awed by my soldier’s willingness to sacrifice than on this day each year, and I’m praying his quiet strength is sinking into my heart too. Thank you, Jennifer.

  7. Nancy Ruegg

    I watched two older gentlemen line up flags along the entrance to our housing development. I wondered what thoughts play in their minds this day? Do they regret their service for a country of people often preoccupied with self-centered pursuits? I pray we might live up to THEIR ideal of courageous service and unabashed patriotism. Thank you, Jennifer, for turning our minds to proper memorial.



  1. A Heartfelt Thanks On Memorial Day - […] as my friend Jennifer Lee puts it, “Not all superheroes wear capes and masks…they wear […]

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