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What Won Babe Heffron’s Respect

Jan 24, 2012 // By Marcus Brotherton

Two summers ago I found myself at a book signing event seated alongside seven of the original Band of Brothers, the men of Easy Company who have become symbols of heroism in World War II.

I sat near the tail end of a long table. The men and I were on one side, and a crowd of well wishers on the other. The line of people in Pennsylvania that day waiting for autographs and to shake hands with the men stretched for—literally—an hour in the hot sun.
To my left sat William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, and to my right sat Edward “Babe” Heffron. To tell you I felt out of place between two legendary WWII heroes as well as with the rest of the men in that lineup is an understatement. But two of my books were there, being frequently passed down the line and signed by the vets. Thus I sat, scribbled my name, and kept my mouth shut.

After a few hours, Mr. Guarnere announced he’d had enough. He doesn’t sit well for long. Wild Bill gathered his crutches and left for beers with a woman half his age. He’s a colorful figure, which you know if ever you’ve seen him. A larger-than-life American hero. 

Babe Heffron signed for the rest of the day, pausing only to debate baseball and curse anyone who wasn’t a Phillies fan. Babe is less flamboyant than Bill, and bluntly authentic, with never a hint of pretense to anyone in line.
We spoke directly a few times, Babe and me.
Babe asked who I was and why I was there. When I showed him my book, he raised an eyebrow. “Well, good for you,” he said, his voice like gravel.  
When people in line kept calling him “Mr. Heffron,” and he kept saying, “Just call me Babe,” I said, “Mr. Heffron was your father’s name.” And Babe laughed. “That’s a good one,” he said. “I’ll have to remember that.”
After a dozen autograph seekers had looked disappointed and asked Babe where was “his good buddy Bill,” I said, “I’m curious if you get tired of being asked that.” And Babe grinned wryly. Bill and Babe are best of friends—(read their book)—but there was transparency in Babe’s eyes, too. You could tell that the same question repeated so many times had irked him.
I left the lineup early and went to secure a wheelchair for one of the vets who’d been having difficulty walking. I had been helping this man throughout the weekend of the event.
As I headed back to the signing table from the holding station where the wheelchairs were kept, Babe was already headed for the street, homeward bound. He was surrounded by well-wishers and he walked with confident, easy strides.
When he spotted me, he broke away, headed over to me and shook my hand, then kept going without another word.

I’d like to think we connected that day, a military hero and a young author, signing books together in the Pennsylvania summertime.

Yet I doubt if the connection was forged by the books or the jokes or even the deeper question I’d asked and Babe had been gracious enough to field.

Because there’s one more important thing to tell about that day. I think it’s what won Babe Heffron’s respect in the end. It speaks highly of the type of man he is, and the depth of brotherhoods he’s formed over the years.

And I mention this last bit of the story out of tribute to Babe, not me.

The man who helps Babe travel, a man who knows Babe well, pulled me aside and said, “Babe doesn’t do that, you know. He doesn’t shake hands like that with just anyone.”
“I wonder why he did that for me,” I asked, and shrugged.
The man pointed to the wheelchair. “Because you’re taking care of his friend.”
Question: What’s the best thing a friend has ever done for you?
  • He died on a cross for me <3

  • Love this story Marcus. Well done.

  • Yuri

    Great story Marcus, thank you for sharing this with us. When I think about your question, I think of my best friend. We have known each other for about 16 years now. Together we had a dream to play music, and make records. During 2001 and 2006 we actually were able to make our dreams come true! We traveled all over Europe and played lots of fantastic shows with our band. Our childhood dreams came true. Then we decided to stop playing as a band. I followed my heart and moved to Denmark to be with the girl I love. He stayed in the Netherlands. We shared so many great moments together, not just playing music together, but growing into adults together, and sharing good and bad moments. He was there when I needed him to be there, and I was there for him at those moments. I haven’t lived in the Netherlands for 6 years now, and miss him. But, our friendship grew stronger then ever. We are still best friends. My friend is not really good in words, talking about feelings or emotions. So, when he started a new band, and released another album, I was very surprised to find out he wrote a song about our friendship, just for to me! He is singing his feelings to me. For me, that was the coolest thing someone has ever done for me. The song is called “Ride the Wave”, named after my favorite line “I’ll ride the wave where it takes me” from a Pearl Jam song. You can hear it here if you want to: http://colossa.bandcamp.com/album/born-to-make-a-sound
    Sorry, long story, but the feeling I got when I was sitting far away from my friends and family here in Australia, his words meant the world to me. Even with the distance, he was able to make me feel alright.

  • Lee S

    Married me.

  • Tobias (GER)

    What a great story marcus. I love these inside looks to the vets. Especially Babe, because I’m a proudly owner of one of his white 101st AB Jackets and I realla like his character described in his and Bill’s book.

    My best friend lives is Belgian and lives there. In December 2009 I met him first time. Before that we wrote over facebook and email a couple of months. We share the same interest in the US Paratroopers of WWII. Since then I met him exactly three more times. So that makes it 4 times in about 3 years of friendship. But believe it our not, we both have a connection I never experienced before with an other friend. The best thing he’s done to me is, he always treats me like a king when I’m over in Belgium. He acts and behave not just as a friend but more as a brother. I miss him pretty much over the year. I wonder when we will meet again, because me having a son now, does not make the 500 distance between us any better.

    Yuri, great story of you and your friend. I’m kind of jealous, cause I never got a friend like that when I was younger.
    I just heard the song for you. I like it and the voice of your friend sounds very good and enhanced. Give him my regards. I will check out the whole album now.

    All the best to you Marcus and Yuri.

    T

  • What a heartwarming story, Marcus. You never know who will be touched by a selfless act that you do without even giving it a second thought.

    Lee, great answer!

  • Yuri

    Hi Tobias! Thanks! I will do so. Great story from you as well. When I live in Europe again (next year), I hope we will meet more often again at the various memorials and tribute events. Marcus, I love your blog!

  • Tobias (GER)

    I really hope so too Yuri! Guess we got pretty many stories to tell. I well remember meeting you in Dec 2009 in Bastogne.

    T

  • Marcus

    Great comments everybody. Thanks.

    Yuri–I checked out the link. Great band. Lots of energy. A real raw sound.

  • Yuri

    Thank you Marcus! I’ll tell them!

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HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.