Looking at Bruce Davis at one of his usual Tuesday afternoon Kiwanis Club meetings, you never would have guessed him for a hero.
Then again, you never would have guessed his age, either. He was 84 but I would have said 75 tops.
And he was, indeed, a hero.
At the height of World War II Bruce was a pilot of a B-17 bomber that was shot down over Germany. Bruce spent about 18 months as a prisoner of the Nazis.
When I met him he was just a laid-back guy in a casual shirt who was always quick to cough up a dollar to brag about his beloved Georgia Bulldogs.
"He was one of those unsung heroes of World War II and he didn't know it," said fellow Kiwanian and Bruce's friend L.C. Thomas.
That I think sums it up. Bruce didn't know he was a hero. He didn't flaunt it, it wasn't something he talked about incessantly, though others would mention it when Bruce announced the death of another member of "The Greatest Generation."
"He didn't brag about it," said Lou Hisel, president of the club and another long-time friend. "He always just said he'd done his duty."
In fact, Hisel said Bruce never even talked about his experiences in the war until recently. Bruce just "melted" into society, Hisel said, an outstanding member of the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro and a former Morrow city council member.
For me, and perhaps others of my generation, Bruce may as well have fought in the Civil War. That conflict that tore the world in half, to me, is so much a piece of history, the stuff of black and white movies and textbooks. Maybe that's why it always astonishes me to meet people like Bruce, the old vets who lived through that war.
Their stories are always more interesting than any movie. I've met the woman who typed the D-Day orders, interviewed a sailor who was there when Pearl Harbor burned. I even met a Jewish man who spent the entire war hiding in Berlin under the noses of the Nazis who wanted him and all of his people dead.
I've also been to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor, but those are just places. The real monuments to that great conflict walk among us in our everyday lives. They are leaving us pretty quickly, though.
I never really talked to Bruce about his experiences, not as much as I wish I had. Now the opportunity has passed. Those of you who read this column should take note of that, and if you have an "unsung hero" like Bruce Davis in your life, don't let them get away without a full accounting of what they did for their country.
That's how history lives on after the deaths of those who made it.
Ed Brock covers public safety and municipal governments for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .