Fighting for Dad

Not so long ago, First Sergeant Paul John Reeder was a force to be reckoned with. His soldiers might tell you that he was quick to correct (or criticize). They might also tell you that he was very protective. An injustice against his soldiers could not survive his wrath.


First Sergeant Reeder entered the service of the United States Army during the Vietnam War and exited, disabled and retired, after Desert Storm. He has spent his days since enjoying the place called home that the rest of us take for granted. The place which, in a lifetime of service, he almost never got to see. He has rekindled family relationships with people he had not seen in years. He has a great deal of fight left in him, but the enemy was taking on a different form: the largemouth bass, the crappie, the deer.


In early 2009, First Sergeant Paul Reeder was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a particularly bad and almost always fatal form of cancer. A lifetime heavy smoker, some might think he deserved this end. Any cost benefit analysis would probably fail, with treatment in the 100s of thousands of dollars and success rates in the mid single digits.

But a bean counter cannot measure will. How can you measure a man’s drive to see the birth of his only son’s first child? We do not train our soldiers to go down without a fight. Would the health plan in front of Congress today take the fight away from this soldier? With its plans for limitations and rationing of care, I believe it would.


This is the kind of injustice he would fight. I hope my words here can fight it for him. For my father has earned this treatment. He earned it in Asia. He earned it staring down Soviet tanks at the edge of the Iron Curtain in Europe. He earned it in the sands of the Middle East. He has earned it dealing with the pains and the arthritis from a lifetime of physical abuse to his body. He earned it with the prices he paid personally for the rest of us. The Christmases postponed until January, the birthdays and the anniversaries shifted to meet his schedule and our country’s needs. He earned it missing little league games and school plays of his children that he just couldn’t be there for – for all Americans. He earned it enduring the pain and nightmares that only come from watching your solders die; wishing – and fearing – that something you could have done differently would have spared their lives.


Fortunately, for my father and I, we do not yet live in a land which would deny him the care he has earned. His doctors prescribed an aggresive regimen of both chemotherapy and radiation to attack both the tumor they know about and the tumors that may be forming through his body. He has faced this with an optimism that his family finds surreal. He has followed his doctors’ orders and more. Losing his hair yielded a chuckle and a joke about maybe regaining the half that baldness had already claimed. Bouts of nausea and vomiting were countered by eating more food. While most people lose 30 pounds or more with similar treatment, First Sergeant Reeder has gained 15. Minute by minute, day by day, treatment after treatment he has not been broken. The armor of his impenetrable optimism has never yielded even a single crack.


Modern medicine cannot always perform miracles. It may be that First Sergeant Reeder will live for many more years to come. We certainly pray for this. It may be that modern medicine has given him only a new short lease on life. In this worst case scenario, it has still bought a lot – for in the next few weeks, the gruff hands of this soldier will softly hold his newborn granddaughter, Kaitlyn Joy Reeder. The soldier will have won the battle, once more.


In the service of our country, First Sergeant Reeder earned:

Bronze Star

3 Meritorious Service Medals

3 Army Commendation Medals

3 Army Achievement Medals

6 Good Conduct Medals

2 National Defense Service Medals

Southwest Asia Service Medal with three bronze stars

NCO Profession Development ribbon #3

Army Service Ribbon

German Marksmanship Award


Why would our country pass a law that would take the life he willingly risked to keep her free?