What the Real Superheroes are Wearing (A Memorial Day Tribute)

May 27, 2013 | 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 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.

Yes, some of the superheroes wear skirts. And Maybelline. And from time to time, they’ve worn the scorn of 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 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 confirmed that 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, and said those 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. 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.



Revisiting this post from last year ….

Again today, we visit Grandpa Paul’s grave, and we remember all we’ve loved and lost. Last 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.


RELATED: My friend, Kristen Strong, has a new ebook, “Serving You: 31 Days of Encouragement for the Military Wife.” It is “a devotional collection offering encouragement for those living the everyday realities of military life, told from the perspective of one Air Force wife.” You can find Kristen’s blog by clicking here, and the book here. Today and tomorrow, the ebook is free. Details here…

by | May 27, 2013 | 7 comments


  1. Elizabeth Stewart

    That last photo, it has to be the best Memorial Day photo ever!

  2. Mindy

    Beautiful tribute! My Grandpa was one of those placing flags and saluting the fallen. He sold buddy poppies to raise funds each year. Him and my Grandma are now in assisted living but he still proudly wears a cap denoting his service. He talks more now than ever of his service but the words still come slow, the emotion runs strong.

  3. Caryn Christensen

    What a beautiful way to share about our country’s {and your family’s} heroes! Thank you Jennifer.

  4. rachel lee

    what a stunning portrait of the beauty of the day. <3 that last photo is just wonderful.

  5. JustCallMeRie

    My father was in the Air Force and served proudly. (He was in Germany the same time as Elvis – he said that was INTERESTING!) He was too young for World War II and too old for Vietnam. But he saw enough and knows enough to be very grateful and emotional. Thank you for the post, Jennifer, for he is my super hero.

  6. Beth

    Jennifer, this was a lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing. Both my husband and my son currently serve. My son spent his first two years in the Navy honoring our fallen heroes as they were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He had the opportunity to participate in the “flags-in” also. I share this because through him I realized how important it is to remember them not only on Memorial Day, but every day. With shaking knees and hands I stood before my church on Sunday and shared my heart…we need to remember. Thank you for your heart! Many blessings, Beth.


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