My Hero. SGT Byron Norwood.

Tags: HeroStories

Byron W. Norwood is my hero.  I knew Byron when he was a teenager in Austin, TX.  I served as a youth leader of a church group that Byron was in. He was a skinny, goofy, fun-loving kid.  We gave him a nickname - “Young Byron” - because he looked much younger than his 14 years.  My wife and I later moved from Austin and we lost touch with Byron and his family.

Some 11 years later I was driving down the highway one evening listening to the State of the Union address on NPR.  The President’s words at the end of the speech nearly caused me to wreck.  He said, “We have said farewell to some very good men and women, who died for our freedom, and whose memory this nation will honor forever. One name we honor is Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed during the assault on Fallujah. Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders, and our military families, represented here this evening by Sergeant Norwood's mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood.”

As I drove on, listening to the applause over the radio, my wife called and asked if I’d heard.  She described what she was seeing on TV.  A woman from Iraq, sitting next to Laura Bush and whose finger was stained purple from voting in Iraq’s first free election, was hugging Byron’s mother.  Tears coursed down my face and I struggled to focus on the road.  I tried to picture Young Byron as a grown man, as a Marine.  But all I could envision was the awkward teenage boy with glasses.  I couldn’t believe he was gone.

When I got home later that night I looked up Byron on the internet.  There he was, a rugged, strapping young man in battle fatigues.  But he still had that mischievous fun-loving look in his eyes.  The next day my wife and I told our four kids about a scrawny boy we’d once known, who grew to be a man, a soldier, a hero, brining freedom to others. Byron died on November 13, 2004.  Seven Marines were down and wounded inside a house in Fallujah during a fire fight with foreign terrorists.  Byron went in as part of a rescue crew and to direct fire for his comrades.  A sniper shot him from the roof of another house.  The nine foreign terrorists in the house were all killed and all seven wounded Marines were evacuated safely.

Sgt. Byron W. Norwood will be forever young and forever my hero.  I proudly wear his bracelet to remember and honor him.

With a sad but grateful heart,

Bart Skalla

Ridgway, Color