In Memory of Russell Heyward lost to Agent Orange in 2004.
My American Hero
When you are asked to think about an American Hero what comes to your mind? Is it John Wayne, Martin Luther King, or someone else well known for an act of heroism? I think of my Grandfathers’ Russell Heyward and William Brown Jr., but today I am going to just tell you about Russell Heyward.
Russell Heyward is not someone you will find in any history book or movie but if you say his name in my family you hear stories of a man that helped many and touched everyone’s life in a way that can never be replaced. Russell was born on July 11, 1948. He was a typical child that grew up to be an exceptional man and my Papa.
In 1968 my Papa joined the Marines and went off to war in Vietnam in 1969. He was in the middle of his first tour of duty when his unit came under fire in the miserable jungle and he was critically injured by a grenade that landed in his fire hole. All but two Marines in his hole where killed that day. My Papa and his buddy where able to make it to a medivac unit and then transported to Japan for medical care. There Russell spent 6 long and painful months in a burn unit fighting for his life. His buddy wasn’t as lucky. My Papa came back to the States where he was given a medical discharge from the Marines he was a Sgt. He was disfigured and had scars that went further than the eye could see. That alone would of stopped any man from going on with their life but not my Papa “Once A Marine Always A Marine”.
Russell made a life for himself. He married the love of his life my Meme, Gail. And had two sons my Uncle Rusty and Uncle John. In 1987 he joined the Sumter County Sheriffs Dept. where he continued to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
Then in 2000 he was diagnosed with cancer caused by Agent Orange that he was exposed to while in Vietnam. But yet again he refused to give up, “Once A Marine Always A Marine”. He retired from the Sheriffs Dept. in 2003 only because he was medically made too. He fought a long hard battle for his life. He wasn’t willing to quit and leave us. He made the best of everyday even when he was too sick to even talk. He even made sure I learned how to swim the last summer he was alive. But sadly my Hero lost his battle on November 20, 2004 at 12Am.
It has been almost 7years since the last time I saw my Hero but what I learned from him will live on in me forever. I learned so many things from my Papa. But what I learned the most is it’s what we do with our lives and in helping others that make what people remember about us. Russell Heyward, in the end, did Give All for his Country and Family. He didn’t die while in Vietnam but died from the poisons he brought home with him from the war.
He is and always will be my American Hero.
Love William – with Colleen Brown Hatton