Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another hero passes from us

Ed Mauser, the oldest survivor of the Band of Brothers has left us.

A member of the "Band of Brothers" who fought in some of World War II's fiercest European battles, Ed Mauser shunned the limelight and kept his service with the Army unit a secret, even from some of his family.

His role came to light only after his brother-in-law got him a copy of the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," said Terry Zahn, who met Mauser during a 2009 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial. Mauser, who died Friday, told his family that some of the things in the miniseries, like the locations of buildings, weren't quite what he remembered from being there in person.

But before that, "he never talked about it for years and years and years," said Zahn, president of the Midwest chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association.

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They are all slowly passing away now. By the hundreds each day, we are losing those who fought and bled and died. Ultimately they prevailed to secure and protect our freedoms. And yet the large majority of Americans are not only oblivious to their passing, but they are oblivious to the debt that we owe these men.

Zahn said he kept his service a secret, even from his relatives. After it became known, he reunited with some of his Army buddies and made a few public appearances. He preferred to stay out of the limelight.

"Don't call me a hero," Mauser told the Lincoln Journal Star in a 2009 interview. "I was just one of the boys. I did what I was told, and let's leave it at that."

None of them wanted to be called heroes, yet that is what they were and who they are to those of us who recognize their sacrifices and their love of their country. Ed didn't want to be called a hero in life, he only did what he was told to do and what was required of him to hear him tell it.

But Ed Mauser was a hero by all definition. Along with the thousands of others who returned home and the thousands who didn't. They each answered the call of their nation and gave what was required, as best they could. They contributed, each in their own ability. And yes, the measure of a hero can be weighed.

A hero is the individual who held out and held on when their minds screamed to them that there was no more holding out or holding on.

A hero is the individual who looked death in the eye and stood fast, as they would rather have died facing death eye to eye, than to have walked away or fled their duty.

A hero is the individual who gave selflessly for the benefit and safety of others, often times to the sacrifice of their own life. But they never brag about what they did.

Heroes never intend to be heroes. They shun the title and deep down inside I suppose many of them think "If they only knew how scared I was, they would never think of me as a hero."

Little do they realize, that fear is what staunched their souls and kept them at their posts and provided them with the last ounce and measure of courage required at that single moment in time.

Ed Mauser was a hero. He was a young man when he answered the call of his country and when he endured the threat of death at Normandy and later at Bastone. When all others including their enemy saw no point to their continued resistance, Ed and his band of brothers stood fast and held on. And for that they will always be known as 'The battling bastards of Bastone." They never quit, they never gave up on each other and they never gave into the pressure of their enemy.

So was Ed Mauser a hero? You can count on it. Ed embodied what all heroes share. A love of his country and a love of his brothers in arms, to the last man. Ed has gone to be with those brothers now, both those lost so many years ago on those battle fields and those who have slowly marked the passage of time since, before their own passing.

I am sure as Ed's last breath settled, there were immediately those present around him to walk with him into glory. Gladly patting him on the back and telling him of his welcomed arrival in heaven.

Was Ed Mauser a hero? I for one will always believe so. As I will always believe that he now once again serves in the company of heroes, once again with his brothers in heaven.