Why the Ordinary Heroes Project?

The Ordinary Heroes Project is the result of a promise I made to my father over a decade after he passed away. 

A front-lines combat infantryman in Europe during the last year of World War II my father told me numerous times in his final years to remind his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and others to follow that “he was a soldier”.  In spite of all he had done in his 84 years, those seven months on the “line” defined him. 

On the plane home from visiting the D-Day beaches of France in 2018, I stared out the window and made a promise to my father. I promised him I would use whatever gifts, talents and abilities I might have been given to share my father’s story, the story of his generation—the “Greatest Generation”—and what they did in that extraordinary season of time to save the world from the grip of evil.

It’s taken a few years to come together but here it is; the Ordinary Heroes Project. My intention is simply to help people understand the triumph and the suffering of the times, the joys and heartaches that touched every community in America and around the world. 

More than that, however, I want my audience to know that what was done—those incredible deeds of courage and sacrifice—was not done by a generation of super-humans. They were done by young men and women thrown into an extraordinary time and asked to do an extraordinary task.

And they did it, these Ordinary Heroes.


An Ordinary Hero

Hero: The Song

Like most little boys of my time I saw my dad as my hero. It wasnt for grand deeds done or fortunes accumulated or for any particular skill or talent. He was my hero because he was my dad. Thats just the way it was for little boys.

Later in life I began to hear bits and pieces about the war. I would come to know in time that Dad had indeed fought in World War II, that he had been a soldier. He didnt offer much information so whatever I knew I learned from my mother or simply deduced from the contents of the wooden army trunk that sat in the corner.

As I grew older I would learn more and more. Eventually Dad even started to tell me about some of his experiences. He didnt tell me much because his philosophy was always, If you talk about it, youre bragging. And anyone who knew my Dad knows he was no bragger.

Somewhere along the years I learned about that night, March 11, 1944. On a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines Dads patrol came under enemy fire. One of his best friends, Joseph Panamas, was hit by machine gun fire and critically wounded. Dad and a second friend, James Renfro, carried the dying Panamas back to American lines. Panamas died 10 minutes after being carried to safety but for their heroic efforts, Dad and Renfro were awarded Bronze Stars.

As a child I believed my Dad to be a hero. The Bronze Star and the stories of that night and others like it only confirmed what my heart and mind already knew.

This page is dedicated to my Dad and to James Renfro and Joseph Panamas and the others men who fought alongside my dad and even died in the process. It is a modest attempt at keeping their memory and the memory of what they did, alive for all to know, understand, and appreciate.

Dad, proudly in uniform
For years I had been struggling at the task of trying to write a song for my dad but with no success. I wanted to tell him how proud I was of him and what he had done those many years ago. One summer's day in 2007 my son Jonathan called from Nashville to tell me he had written a song he wanted me to hear. He emailed me the file and, with tears unashamedly streaming down my face I listened for the first time to Hero. I knew what I had not done -- what I, for some reason couldn't do or say -- he had. He nailed it, plain and simple.

Since you've opened this page you are probably listening right now to Hero. Jonathan and I hope you enjoy it but, more than that, we hope it inspires you to remember the wonderful people who sacrificed so much for us. If you like it, go ahead and download it as our gift to you and a livingmemorial to my Dad, the men of the 324th Infantry Regiment, and all the wonderful men and women who fought to preserve our freedom.

God Bless you all,

Ron Eckberg

Words and music by Jonathan David Eckberg
Copyright 2007 JDE Music

You can almost see his face
Set with just a trace
Knowing not what lies along his tale

Still he ran to add his name
When the first chance he had came
And proudly marched his way on down that trail

Ore the water he would cross
With an innocence soon lost
Hed witness more than any eye should see

But when that moment did arrive
All the courage penned inside
Was bursting forth to break the hero free

He said, I know you dont understand,
I did no more than any other man.
He said, I know you cant understand,
I did no more than any other man

From the farm he called his home
To this soil not his own
He made his way through the countryside of war

When duty called to choice
He answered strong in voice
With endeavors that could never ask for more

He said, I know you dont understand,
I did no more than any other man.
He said, I know you cant understand,
I did no more than any other man

The years they swiftly fade
With a family and a trade
Hed never breathe a word about that day

But thats the way it goes
With heroes, I suppose
They never claim the valor they display

He said, I know you dont understand,
I did no more than any other man.
He said, I know you cant understand,
I did no more than any other man
But you're not any other man.

Produced and recorded by Jonathan David Eckberg, vocal by Ron Eckberg

Welcome to Ordinary Heroes 

Perhaps no other event in our nation’s history has produced more heroes than World War II. 

Few of those heroes returned home to become entertainment giants, sports superstars, or business tycoons. Few built empires, placed their names in the record books, or discovered cures for any of mankind’s many diseases. Few returned to find their picture on the covers of Life or Saturday Evening Post. 

They were common, ordinary men who came from common, ordinary backgrounds. They held ordinary dreams for ordinary lives yet left to do an extraordinary duty. They left behind cornfields to trudge the world’s battlefields, then returned home to become carpenters, farmers, laborers, husbands, fathers, and friends. 

Nevertheless, they will forever remain imbedded in our nation’s consciousness as he-roes. They will be remembered as such because they lived in a time that placed incredible demands upon their simple lives. They will be remembered as heroes because they answered the call of their country in the time of their country’s need. They will be remembered as heroes because they did the job set before them without hesitancy, without complaint, without question. 

Journalist and author Tom Brokaw called them the “greatest generation” and that designation has deservedly stuck. Their greatness was most certainly demonstrated on the battlefields of Europe, Africa, Asia and across the Pacific. It was demonstrated on the ground, in the air, upon the great seas and under those same seas. 

But their heroism didn’t stop at the edge of the battlefields. It continued throughout their lives as they came home and got down to the work of building a better world, one family and one community at a time. The battlefields had shaped these young lives, turning them into disciplined men who would become the leaders of a post war world that would shape the lives of countless million others. 

I was fortunate to have spent my entire life knowing some of these heroes. I havewatched them, I have worked with them, and I have grown up with them. They are the men whose sacrificial service helped to preserve the many freedoms that my generation and I enjoy. 

The Webster Dictionary defines a hero as, “A man noted for courageous acts or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his life” and the men who so gallantly served our country during the World War II years qualify beyond all question and without exception.  

They sacrificed the best years of their youth. They left sleepy, isolated places like Walnut, Illinois only to wind up in places they had never before heard of, places like Normandy, Bastogne, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Sicily. These places, as well as countless others, would soon be indelibly etched in their minds, their memories, and even in their nightly nightmares. 

They would leave their homes little more than boys, but would come back battle hardened men. They would celebrate their ascension to manhood under horrible and gruesome baptisms of fire. They would watch their comrades and best friends die on the field of battle. They would witness things that no human beings should ever have to witness or be party to. 

The fortunate ones would return to resume their simple lives, but they would return as men changed for life. 

What follows, then, is a tribute to their sacrifice as demonstrated by just a few from among the many and one in particular. They are not household names other than in their own household. Most spent the remainder of their life building and shaping the wonderful small Illinois community I grew up in. Some influenced my life from afar in remarkable other ways. They are as different as different can be from one another yet they all shared the common experience World War II brought. They all—in one way or another—had a hand in shaping my life. 

It is my hope that these stories will serve in some small way as a reminder that heroism can not--and should not--be measured by one’s talents or abilities, by one’s success in accumulating or generating wealth, or by one’s athletic prowess. 

The standard by which we define heroism is instead included in these pages. It is a standard set by one ordinary man in an army of many ordinary men who did extraordinary things. 

It is the story of “Ordinary Heroes”.

The Legacy of D-Day

June 6, 1944 was not just another day in world history. We know it as D-Day and it has become synonymous with freedom, courage, and sacrifice. I've tried to capture some of these themes in an essay titled "The Legacy of D-Day". Click here to read more


Act of Valor: An Essay

Company of Heroes