This story is by Trish Olson and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Emery Steele is a legend in our town. Some of my fondest memories are of attending our Memorial Day parade, resting on my dad’s shoulders,while Emery waved at me from his float. He was dressed in his Navy uniform with his Medal of Honor proudly displayed. They say everyone has a twin. His was Humphrey Bogart.
It seems appropriate that, even though he just turned eighty-three, when he walks into our local bar (were you waiting for me to say gin joint?) to enjoy a beer and watch an Orioles or a Ravens game with us, people still salute Emery and he hasn’t paid for a drink in years.
I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, and being considered a military hero in this town is no small task. We are the home of the United States Naval Academy, which not only provides top ranking servicemen,but operates a hospital that is highly respected. They have an honor code for their students which states they will not lie, cheat,or steal. Emery is one of the few people I have met in my life who I believe has actually upheld it.
Emery works as a janitor at the academy. His shift ends at 3:30 in the afternoon and then he heads over to the hospital where he volunteers, assisting veterans with their meals. During the holiday season, he goes out of his way to pick up cards and gifts for the patients he knows won’t have visitors.
My uncle Scott once told me a story about how Emery had saved his life. Emery was a college student at the time. My uncle was shot in the chest and left to die in an alley behind a 7 Eleven. He said Emery took off his jacket in six degree weather and used it to help stop my uncle from bleeding to death. By the time they got to the hospital Emery had to be treated for frostbite. My uncle said Emery never brought it up again. He never made him feel guilty or like he owed him anything for saving his life. I wasn’t surprised when I learned later that Emery had become a paramedic.
I can remember a couple of times when I was younger that people tried to plan surprise parties for Emery. It didn’t take long for him to make it clear that he would rather see the money and time spent on the Veterans at the hospital and their families. He said he appreciated their thoughtfulness,but if they wanted to make him happy then the best way was to stop paying attention to him and pay attention to the veterans.From then on they all pitched in and helped him put special meals and events together at the hospital, especially on Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. As I grew up, I started helping. He always thanked me, but somehow I felt like I should be thanking him. I felt special being included.
I will never forget being away at school and receiving a letter from my dad telling me that Emry’s son Bobby had been killed in Vietnam. I was always surprised that Emery didn’t develop a hate for the military and move away. Years later, when I mentioned that to my dad,he said that Emery once told him that he would always miss his son,but he was proud of him for fighting for what he believed in and defending his country. He believed that supporting veterans was the best thing he could do to honor Bobby’s memory.
My dad went on to tell me one more thing about Emery that was surprising. He had never actually been in the service. He had attempted to enlist in the navy straight out of high school but they turned him down because he had asthma. The Medal of Honor that Emery wore was given to him by a veteran who appreciated the time and support that Emery gave to him and his family during the past few years. He said that the act that earned him the medal took about two minutes to play out, while Emery had dedicated years of his life to saving people’s lives and helping veterans. He asked him to please wear it and keep up the good work.
I read somewhere that a person can be arrested for wearing a Medal of Honor that doesn’t belong to them, but I can’t imagine that happening to Emery. I think the town would stage a protest.
If there is one thing Emery has taught me, it’s that how you live your life has a ripple effect on the lives of the people around you.
After I heard the story about how Emery had saved my uncle’s life,I knew I wanted to become a doctor. I graduated from Johns Hopkins and then came back home and got a job at the U.S.Naval hospital.
Whether you receive a Medal of Honor for it or not, do your best to make the world a better place. I promise you won’t regret it.