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SideLines: Remembering a soldier

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He fought at a time when soldiers and wars weren’t fashionable.

He served his country before it became the honored thing it is today, when it was almost looked down upon. In fact, when he returned home from overseas duty there were no parades or rallies or pictures in the local newspaper. Only family and a few close friends knew you were back – or that you’d been gone.

Shortly after graduating from high school in 1965, Danny Downey enlisted in the United States Army and spent 23 years serving in various parts of the world, including in the Vietnam War.

Danny passed away last month. He was 65. After suffering from various health issues the last few years, his passing, though sad, was almost a relief in that his suffering was now over.

Danny and his wife, Peggy, raised four children, including two boys who served in the military. One advanced to the security team that once guarded the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A devoted family man, Danny liked to hunt and fish and go camping. He was a quiet giant of a man with a nice sense of humor.

He was also the older brother of my best friend. Although I knew him for many years, I only have two vivid memories of Danny. The first was the time he told us he could break a person’s back with just his forefinger. My friend and I, being teenage boys at the time, had been acting up a little bit, which apparently irritated him.

The way he said it, very calmly and seriously, I never doubted him.

The other memory I have was the time we were hanging out at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, where Danny was stationed. It was late at night, and we were playing the card game UNO. For some reason, I just couldn’t lose, which also seemed to irritate him. Apparently, no one could go to bed until he had beaten me at least once. With the thought of his forefinger still vividly in mind, I was pulling for him to win as much as anyone.

I don’t know why I remember that. It’s just one of those quirky little things you remember about someone.

Danny will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, making him the first person I know to be buried there. In the future, every time I hear someone mention Arlington, I know I’ll think of him, what an honor it is to be interned there and what amazing company will surround him.

For me, Danny Downey isn’t one of those faceless heroes or withered tombstones we honor on Veterans Day. His is a face and a voice I remember, just like my father and grandfather and uncles who also served our country in various wars and who are no longer with us.

Veterans Day is Sunday, but will be honored on Monday. It is a time for honoring all those who have served in our armed forces. The day always falls on Nov. 11 to coincide with the signing of the Armistice to end World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars.

Regardless of when it’s fought, war is a horrible invention after which even the victor is never really the same. In a perfect world, we should be able to settle our differences with diplomacy or by turning the other cheek.

But then you see madmen proudly gun down a 14-year-old girl because she wants to go to school, you know there are some causes that can’t be ignored, and some fights that have to be waged. Because what kind of a world will we live in if we don’t?

I thank God there are brave people like Danny willing to answer the call to duty.

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