I love MEETING HEROES. My friend Steve Brady stalked a guy in a bookstore years ago (so this is my interpretation/recollection of Steve’s side of the story, and knowing Steve I suspect it is correct) and after following him around for a while, finally went up to him and said “Are you Major Capers?” Steve is a history buff, and has a crazy scary mind for remembering what he has read and seen, and recognized Major Capers from reading about him and hearing stories about him. They started talking and it was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
When Steve told me about it, I didn’t know this man’s name or anything about his military career, but when he described the Marine recruiting poster he had been on, I knew exactly who he was talking about. I think it must have been from the late 60s or early 70s. He was the first African American man to grace such a poster. “Ask a Marine”. I remembered the image because he was so serious and respectful and had such dignity. To me he epitomized a good, strong Marine and I am sure that is why that image stuck with me. Probably why it was such a popular campaign. But it didn’t even scratch the surface of Major Capers….this Marine has much to tell when asked.
I met Major Capers for the first time at Steve’s retirement from the Navy. He came and shared a few words. I knew who he was….he is one of Steve’s personal heroes. He was quiet that day, though, and though I met him I got no stories out of him.
I met him again at Easter two years ago. The Brady family and I took Easter lunch to him at his home and hung out with him for the afternoon. That time the stories flowed.
Oh the stories that man has in his brain! The campaigns he served under. The sheer power of a man he was. I am a big Navy Seal fan, and Major Capers did everything they did. (I think he even told me he went through the same training.) He’d talk about the grueling underwater missions. He served during Vietnam and led missions to get our soldiers released from POW camps. He was injured several times. Promoted on the battlefield. He has been awarded many honors.
The story that stands out to me was when he was returning from Vietnam injured, on a stretcher at the airfield. Someone urinated on him. It horrified me when I heard it. It personalized all of the stories I had heard of soldiers returning from Vietnam, that frankly get to just be stories to us after a while with no feelings of passion in our reaction. This was a good reminder to me of the horrors of humanity….and how we have to remember “Never again.” This strong and gentle man, that proud Marine on the poster, respected our country so much and was so disrespected in return. Yet, he healed his body and went back to continue to serve.
He talked about being in a depression since the death of his wife (their son had pre-deceased her.) He ran away from their house in Jacksonville, NC for a while after her death. He just couldn’t deal with it. They were making a movie about him in California, so he went there. Other projects drew him other places. Finally he decided it was time to go back home and face things. Strange that a man that had faced all kinds of danger and tragedy in his life had such difficulty facing this one. But then again, maybe not. His wife had been there through all of those other tragedies, and even if she was far away at times as he served I think she brought him great strength. He lost his rock when she died, the family he had to go home to. He seems lonely.
I just finished reading (or rather listening to the audiobook of!) a fictionalized account of French women during World War II (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah….I recommend!) and it reminded me of the horrors of war. Of how it changes people and brings out the best and the worst. Makes heroes and cowards and activists and passives (no, I don’t mean pacifists), brings out sadism and compassion. Personally I would like to pretend that wars don’t happen. Especially right now. That we don’t have young men and women today, in horrific conditions, dealing with dangerous situations, and changing who they are. Most days I can ignore it. That’s horrifying and sad. But I think rather universal.
But yet so many have done so much. So many have served so well. So many come home and just resumed unassuming lives, and we forget. We shouldn’t.
I’m glad my friend Steve (don’t tell him I said this, but he is a hero himself, having just retired from a naval career, where among other things he spent time in Iraq doing the unimaginable job of helping to decide the fates of young men who had done horrific things in the war….and not just meeting movie stars, as I usually proclaim) met Major Capers that day and they have mutually chosen each other as family. I feel a kinship with him too. Steve just announced the March issue of Maxim magazine features an article on Major Capers. You should read it. Learn more about him. It’s one way to meet a hero. I think you’ll love it.