In the southwest corner of Ohio on Aug. 31, a famous departed American hero was memorialized. As a fitting and property tribute to Neil Armstrong's life, President Obama proclaimed that our flag should be flown at half staff until sun down in observance of his passing. One reporter observed that Armstrong left behind family, friends and footprints on the moon.
In the southeastern corner of the state on the same day, another not-so-famous departed hero was memorialized at the Harriettsville Cemetery, in Noble County. In a touching military ceremony, the triangularly folded flag was ceremoniously unfolded and the stars and stripes smartly waved a final farewell before being refolded and presented to grieving family.
Having lived more than a century, this American hero had outlived most of his contemporaries, yet more than 60 friends, family and neighbors (several had already left the cemetery before I started counting) came to pay their final respects. Such respect speaks volumes of the man and his life.
Roy H. Mason, a few weeks shy of his 101st birthday represents what has been called America's Greatest Generation. I grew up among so many ordinary heroes of World War II such as Gerald Williamson, Morris Thompson, Don Bonnett, Roy Mason and so many others, too few of whom are still with us.
Roy was more than a hero. He was, to a young man some 40 yeas his junior, a friend. As a young teenager, like many in our community, I worked on his farm helped cut timber, worked around Mason and Archer's sawmill, and of course the well-known cider mill, but mostly I remember just listening to old war stories. I loved hearing those old war stories as much as he enjoyed telling them. As a lifelong lover of history, it was thrilling to hear from a man and a generation who actually made history.
Roy never made himself the hero of his own stories. Real heroes don't. His stories were funny, entertaining, and informative, but never self pitying. I knew there was more, and I knew not to ask. On one summer day after an exhausting day of hauling hay, we talked (he talked, I eagerly listened) about the war and in a rare moment of vulnerability, he looked me in the eyes and said, "it wasn't all fun Dave."
Sometime after that conversation for a few days, he wore a faded old work shirt. Stenciled on the back was the letters, P.O.W. He never spoke of that part of his military service in all the years I knew him, nor dared I speak of it. But I knew. He wanted to know I knew, and that was enough.
Neil Armstrong was one of only eight men in human history to leave footprints on the moon, but we all leave footprints of some kind somewhere. Thank you Cpl. Roy H. Mason for marching across Europe with General George S. Patton's Third Army to help preserve our freedom, but mostly, thank you my friend, for the footprints you left on my life.
David L. Van Fossen