The boy looked up at the stars, and wondered which one he'd come from. He could hear the old man come down out of the house, walk across the yard to the fence. The boy could hear the whole farm - and the next farms over. It got to the point he didn't even have to think about it any more.
The old man leaned on the fence. "You did well today, Clark. Saving that girl, I mean. Bet you liked it when Mr. Lang called you a hero."
The looked up at the stars for a while.
"I wasn't always a farmer," the old man went on. "Grew up in Kansas, of course, and it's where I met Martha. Yet when the war came, I signed up along with almost every other young man of my generation. We mustered out to England, then France...and then there we were in the mud of it."
"There's a lot of people that talk about heroics during war, but it's hard to see it when you're on the ground. Watching people dying. Shooting at people just because they wear a different uniform, speak a different language. The government - they know that people don't like to fight and kill each other. It isn't our instinct. They have to whip men up to go and kill each other. Some of them got real good at it. Yet those men aren't heroes."
"The only true hero I ever knew was a man named Rock. He made sergeant, but he was a corporal when I first knew him. There was a man that earned every stripe he ever got, and paid for it in blood. He wasn't about killing people, you see. He'd do it - he did it, going over the top, charging up the hill or through the woods. That man never led from behind, never sent men out to die without putting himself on the line. Rock had an understanding of war - he knew it chewed men up and spat them out. He wanted his men to survive. He wanted to do his duty to his country and humanity, but those were big, far away concepts compared to the men screaming unheard against the barrage of explosive shells."
The old man traced a small scar on his hand. "I wasn't there when he died. Got my wound, my medal, and mustered out. There are stories I could tell you about him...maybe another night...the things he did for his men. Above and beyond the call of duty, they like to call it, but it wasn't really. Rock had a higher calling. He was soldier's hero, what men need when they're at war, though I doubt he got a chest full of medals for it. But in the end he was only a man, and he could only do what a man could do."
There were tears in the old man's eyes as he talked about the man named Rock.
"I tell you these things because I want you to understand - it's not about being thanked. It's not about being called a hero, for what you do. It's about doing the right thing because that's who you are. You understand what I'm saying, son?"
"Yes Pa," the boy stared up at him with those big blue eyes, that little shock of black hair curling down over his forehead.
"Good. Now c'mon, Martha has a pie out of the oven, and I reckon we could both use a slice."