SPARTA — Mike Hebenthal thought he understood what it was to be a hero, until he discovered what it truly meant.
Hebenthal, U.S. Air Force Major-Retired, spoke of the days he discovered the meaning of being a hero during Memorial Day services Monday at Bloomfield Cemetery.
He was serving in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2008, and was part of the “Patriot Detail,” which made sure those who died while serving overseas got a proper return to the United States. His toughest one was when three soldiers died on Christmas Eve, knowing their families would find out on the holiday.
“We made sure their last ride home was a good one,” Hebenthal said. “As I walked away, it struck me that everyone there was like me — ordinary people put into extraordinary situations.
“I never thought I would be there, in a war. But now, when I look at the flags in the cemetery, I see ordinary people who became extraordinary people who served their country.”
Hebenthal, now the superintendent at Centerburg Schools after 27 years with the Air Force, was the featured speaker during a short ceremony at Bloomfield Cemetery, which also featured an honor guard of Highland NJROTC cadets, as well as patriotic music from the Highland Marching Band.
Master of Ceremonies Dick Sears, a member of the Bloomfield Cemetery trustee board, told guests about the history booklet on the cemetery that is being put together, and also the wrought-iron fence project that is currently in progress. He said the booklets on the more than 100-year history of the cemetery are in the process of being printed and will be available soon.