Columnist Bob Bridge
“The characteristic of heroism is its persistency. All men have wondering impulses, fits, and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile your self with the world.“
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
No doubt you have been inundated with the never-ending, publicized lists recognizing human beings for their accomplishments in this decade, century, or the past thousand years.
The subjective categorizing reached its zenith when Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, whined when Princess Diana and Lady Godiva failed to make the top 1000 people of the last 1000 years.
The criteria for judging was: lasting influence; effect of sum total of wisdom and beauty; influence on contemporaries; singularity of contribution; and charisma.
You will find no such list here, but rest assured Lady Di would go unmentioned and lovely Miss Godiva would be left out in the cold as well. No pun intended, of course.
I don’t need a newspaper to recognize the significant humans in my realm. Most of them have never been interviewed, appeared on television, or ranked somewhere on a “list.”
Maybe we are just a little too far-sighted in our search for heroes and role models.
Allow me to provide an example. He resides here in our quaint little community.
You’ve seen him, that friendly fellow showing up at most sporting and school events.
He walks with a pronounced limp, flashing a perpetual, mischievous smile.
Phil Tatom is one of Bedford’s favorite sons. He is a helpful, humble human being, loved by all he encounters.
Yet, many of you are probably unaware of his historical background.
Upon graduation from Bedford High School, Phil enlisted in the military to help our troops fight in Vietnam. He was severely injured when a fellow soldier dropped a live grenade and it exploded, sending shrapnel into Phil’s backside.
The military physicians told Phil he would never walk again. He returned to Bedford strapped in a wheelchair.
When friends asked him about his plans, Phil insisted: “I am going to get out of this chair and walk.“
Did I mention he is persistent?
Soon after his return, he detected a tingling in his toes. It wasn’t long before Phil was up and moving around, doing what he does best - helping people. He volunteered at the Boys Club, the fire station, high school athletic events, and anywhere else a radiant, reliable and responsible friend is needed.
With his charm and engaging grin, Phil is well-equipped to communicate with children. Perhaps no one in Bedford is more revered by young people than Pappy Skeeter, who has served as a crosswalk supervisor, basketball coach, teacher’s aide and all-around handyman.
“Phil did his duty when being a patriot was not cool,“ explained Bedford firefighter John Flinn. “He went to Vietnam, served his country, and came home in a wheelchair.
Since then he has spent all his time working with the youth of our community. He truly is a hometown hero.“
Larry McDonald, who served with the U.S. Army‘s Special Forces, agrees.
”I’ve had the honor to know a few bonafide heroes,“ he said. “Phil is definitely among that circle of friends.“
When asked if he regretted his decision to join the military and serve in Vietnam, Phil responded, “I’d do the same thing tomorrow.”
Tom Webb, a teacher at Bedford North Lawrence High School, noted Phil continues to pay a price for the freedom we enjoy in this country.
“He endures the pain from that injury,” he explained. “He still carries pieces of that grenade in his back. But … he never complains.“
Phil shines a positive light so the young folks around him can bask in it.
“I think Phil’s greatest impact can be exemplified by watching him at the ball games,” Webb explained. “The children come running to give him a hug. They love and respect Phil.”
Mike Short, Athletic Director at BNL, said he is blessed and honored to have a volunteer such as Tatom at his disposal.
“Phil is truly a unique human being,“ he explained. “He has taught all of us lessons in humility and appreciation of life‘s blessings.
“Although his injuries sustained during service slowed him down physically, he has never allowed them to embitter him mentally or emotionally.
“What better lesson than that can he give to the many young people who view him as a role model?“
We, in Lawrence County, do not need the national media to confirm Phil Tatom is a hero, a man of significance. That is an absolute, a given.
His actions before Vietnam, during Vietnam, and certainly following Vietnam have merited our reverence.
Because of a bureaucratic technicality, Phil was never awarded a Purple Heart. He didn’t make an issue of it. As with all men of high character, he is secure in his worth.
I thought you should know why he limps. It is important to me.
At least as important as Ladies Di or Godiva are to Al.
Thank you for your service, Phil.
Columnist Bob Bridge welcomes comments at 812-276-9646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.