What the Real Superheroes are Wearing

May 28, 2012 | 25 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 and 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 with 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.

We’ll head to his grave this morning, remembering who Paul was, and what he believed in, and Who he believed in. We’ll go as a family, with Paul’s wife, Joyce, and their two sons, Scott and Mark. (Mark and his family came down from the Twin Cities this weekend.)

All weekend long, little Chase Lee, age 3, has been zooming around the Lee farm with 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.

soldier grave




by | May 28, 2012 | 25 comments


  1. Deb DesMarteau

    Beautifully written memories of Paul and appreciation of great service provided by men and women in the armed forces. Thank you.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Deb. We had a lovely celebration with the Lees. Hoping to see some of the DesMarteau family in September.

  2. Shelly Miller

    I have a bit of a lump in my throat, thanks for the perspective Jennifer. You’re good at that.

  3. Jillie

    Jennifer…this was beautiful and inspiring. My husband and I are Canadians. We watched a lot of programming on your Memorial Day this past weekend. What a tribute you paint with your pen. I will be reading this to my husband tonight when he gets home from work. I know he will cry. He has such a heart for ALL the men who gave themselves up for the cause of freedom and we are grateful. Thank you for this.

    • dukeslee

      Jillie — Bless your heart. What fine neighbors we have in Canada. Thank you for caring enough about our Memorial Day to listen and read and watch. This is a gift. Thank you for being here, Jillie. I love your wonderful country, and used to visit yearly on fishing trips to Lake of the Woods.

  4. Christina

    This was beautiful and brought tears. Made me think of my grandfather. Thanks for this reminder on who the real heros are.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Christina. Did your grandfather also participate in these Memorial Day services? I love seeing those old guys standing up their for the gun salute.

  5. Megan Willome

    Nice job tying in the superhero theme with Chase at the end!

    You know why this is good? Because it makes people’s minds wander to heroes they know who have served. It expands in the reading. Not everyone can do that.

    • dukeslee

      Megan … Thank you for your kind remark. You know how to encourage a writer. Love to you, friend. Hoping you had a good day. I thought of you today …

  6. Amy Sullivan

    Love this write, love your take, love you for reminding us.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Amy, Love comin’ right back to you. 🙂

  7. SimplyDarlene

    Thank you.

    Indeed this day is hard. In so many ways for so many folks.


    • dukeslee

      Yes… Lots of hurt. Today, the girls and I spent a lot of time visiting the graves of children. They noticed the dates, and asked a lot of questions. I don’t know that I had good answers.

  8. Lynn Morrissey

    What a touching post and significant reminder. Our freedom has come with great cost. I think of my great-uncle, a WWII vet, who was at Pearl Harbor during the attack. He died 2 years ago, and I am ever grateful for his dedication to our country. I served as executive director for the USO in St. Louis for a # of years, and I cannot tell you how grateful we were (and are!) to America’s military and their families. We lift our hats and hearts to them. Thank you for such a meaningful, touching post, Jennifer!

  9. Debby

    This was the MOST beautiful memorial I have ever read. EVER! Like the glory of heaven came to the everyday of earth, and there was a silent hug. Just absolutely breathtaking…

  10. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Thank you for sharing you heart–and your father-in-law–here.

    We just spent ten days with our daughter and son-in-law. They’re stationed at Pearl Harbor and live in military housing. A hero behind every door…

    May God bless them all.

  11. Sherrey Meyer

    Jennifer, you have penned such a lovely tribute to all our heroes, male and female, military and non-military, for they are all important to our history and our ongoing freedoms. God bless you and your ministry to us, and God bless America!

  12. Diane Bailey

    Such a beautiful Blog. It’s not that you can tell a good story; it that you have the courage to pull back the curtain, and show your heart. Happy Memorial Day, Jennifer.

  13. Leah Adams

    one of your best pieces. brought tears to my eyes to be reminded of how blessed we are to live in the midst of superheroes.

  14. Joan

    Beautiful tribute to your father and to the men and women who have served this country. One of my cousins served in Viet Nam. He passed away at the age of 54, his illness also from the affects of agent orange.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  15. Danelle

    My eyes are clouded with tears. This is a beautiful, deeply felt tribute. And Chase in the superhero cape at the end. Wow. Indeed he is the grandson of a superhero. How absolutely perfect and touching.

  16. Daniel Farrow

    Jennifer. My best friend is one of those heroes who serves in the Submarine force (The Silent Service) of the U.S. Navy. As an intercessor, I constantly pray for close friends that are currently serving in the military, and yet I still need reminders of who and what I’m praying for.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  17. Rod Bahnson

    Thanks for a great tribute to Paul and all that served even those that supported those that served.

  18. ~ linda

    Thank you, Jennifer. Your words mean so much to me as Memorial Day has much depth for me as well. It is not just a day for family bar-b-quing, but for remembering and pondering those “superheroes”. They truly are in my mind as well. I had a Daddy who served in WWII and then in the Manhattan Project after the war, eventually succumbing to radiation-caused pancreatic cancer from his service with the Manhattan Project. I have a precious husband who served in Vietnam. I know so many others who have served and are serving.
    May God be glorified in the men and women who serve this country.
    And I thank you for visiting me at my new blog-home. May your day be filled with the blessings of our Lord.
    loving you, ~ linda

  19. Michele-Lyn

    Oh… the way you paid homage to those who offer themselves for our freedom. So wonderful.

    And the humility that Mr. Lee possessed just makes my heart want to bow low.

    What a beautiful post… I just love your heart.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest