Today's lesson: If you have a story, go ahead and tell it, even if it's kind of lame.
See, when you tell a lame story, especially to thousands of people in the newspaper and on the Internet, it reminds somebody that he has a much better story to tell, and so he tells it.
So you get to hear a great story that you wouldn't have heard if you hadn't told your lame one.
That's what happened to me last week. Right here in this space, I told the story about the worst birthday I ever had. When I turned 30, I sat in the backyard in the dark, drinking beer and feeling sorry for myself.
Powerful stuff. Of course, I'm being sarcastic. It was not powerful stuff.
In fact, it was kind of lame.
But it reminded Owen Ditchfield of his own story.
Ditchfield, the retired Columbus teacher and former Muscogee County School Board member, sent me an email describing his 30th birthday.
Actually, it was a couple of days after his birthday. He was a company commander with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam.
It was 1969, and Ditchfield was given the order to take his men and check out Hill 996, on the border with Laos, to see if there was any enemy activity there.
Umm, yes, there was.
"A lot of things went wrong," Ditchfield wrote, "including enemy dug in on the hilltop and a major NVA force getting behind us. I lost 20 men that day and was fully expecting to join that number."
But Spc. Gordon Roberts showed up. He was 19 years old but had already received a Silver Star and a Bronze Star, in addition to earning the awesome nickname of "Bird Dog."
"Here's this guy from the other company dodging from tree to tree just like in the movies," Ditchfield told me on the phone Wednesday. "He had his rifle shot out of his hand, so he picked up another one and finished off the rest of them."
For his actions that day, Roberts would later receive the Medal of Honor from President Nixon.
You can read the citation online. It's gripping stuff. Bird Dog destroyed three enemy machine gun nests through a combination of crawling, running, shooting and grenade-tossing. Then he moved wounded soldiers to an evacuation area, all under heavy fire and all "with complete disregard for his safety."
Ditchfield got his first Purple Heart from RPG shrapnel. He saw his battalion commander killed, along with the medics who were trying to save him.
In all, Ditchfield would narrowly escape death seven times in Vietnam, he said. "You do the best you can, what you think is right," he told me, "and you don't panic."
Roberts went home to Ohio, got his degree and started a family. After an 18-year career in social work, he entered active duty as an officer and has since reunited with Ditchfield several times at Fort Benning.
Well, I told a story about watching grass grow and in return I got a story about heroes.
Pretty good deal, huh?
Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes @ledger-enquirer.com