COMMENTARY: His family chose to serve

Service to our nation comes in many forms. We, of course, think of the brave men and woman of the Armed Forces, risking their lives to answer the call of our country.

But, not every act of service comes with a uniform. Opal and Dick Naylor of Perryton, Texas, have shown us a different, but no less admirable, way of serving.

Opal and Dick lived and worked on a farm at Balko, Okla., near Perryton, Texas, with their three children. Their oldest son, Darrell, grew up working on the family farm, graduated from Balko High School, attended Clarendon Junior College and Oklahoma Panhandle State University, and was studying architecture in Denver. His plans were interrupted when he was drafted in 1966 and sent to Vietnam.

On April 14, 1967, as Darrell was leading his unit into a hostile village, he stepped on a land mine and was severely injured. He was conscious until the initial exploratory surgery to find the extent of his injuries.

Darrell was transported back to the U.S. for care. After being in the hospital for more than seven months, the doctors told Opal and Dick that they had to make a choice — put Darrell in a nursing home or take him home and care for him themselves. They chose to take him home and converted a one-car garage into a room for him.

Spec. E4 Darrell J. Naylor was officially discharged from the Army on Dec. 19, 1967, with a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, the Air Medal, and other awards. Several years later they moved to Perryton to find some part-time help with Darrell.

Darrell passed away on Jan. 5, 2006. After that first surgery, Darrell remained in a semi-conscious state due to severe brain damage. He could not communicate or move. With family, a few volunteers and some part-time help, Opal and Dick cared for their son themselves in their home for 38 years and 9 months.

Darrell Naylor showed incredible bravery leading troops into battle in 1967. His parents have also showed incredible courage in the way they took care of their son and thus served not only their family but the country as well. That kind of service required that they make a choice hour after hour, day after day, year after year, to provide Darrell the care he needed.

On this Memorial Day, Darrell’s name will be added to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington as the most recent casualty of that war. Opal and Dick and their family will be there to honor him, and they will also lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

Darrell’s sister, Belva, says their family has a favorite saying that they live by: “God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.” The light provided through the family of Darrell Naylor helps illuminate for each of us the true meaning of selfless service and unconditional love.

Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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