There are few real heroes in our lives -- people whose actions, matched by their humility, are so great that it is difficult for us ordinary mortals to appreciate them fully.
But surely one such hero was retired Lt. Col. Roger Ingvalson, who died this past Christmas Eve in Chattanooga.
Ingvalson was an inspiring example of deep Christian faith, real patriotism toward our beloved United States of America, and unselfish love for his family and for countless others.
He was a U.S. Air Force F-105D jet fighter pilot in the Vietnam War. He was shot down by the Communist North Vietnamese on his 87th mission over North Vietnam, on May 28, 1968.
Ingvalson was captured and was brutally imprisoned for nearly 1,800 days -- almost five years! An extensive part of that time was spent in solitary confinement. He suffered torture and deprivation. But he maintained his sanity by, among other things, carefully studying ants and other insects in his lonely prison cell.
He fortunately was eventually freed, and he returned to the United States.
Ingvalson said of his captivity: "Our prayers were answered when we were finally returned to the 'land of the free and home of the brave.' The good Lord blessed me with good health and, through the American people, has brought me home.
"While in captivity, I heard of the 'unrest' in the States, but my thoughts were confirmed when I came home and learned that the majority of the American people were really behind us and President Nixon. Through the tons of letters which they wrote, plus endless efforts in our behalf, they proved to our enemy that the American people really are not weak."
Ingvalson was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and seven Air Medals.
In 1973, the Minnesota native married Booncy Fullam. Ingvalson founded Chattanooga's Prison Prevention Ministries, promoting lower recidivism among men who have been imprisoned for quite different reasons -- and helping youths avoid going to prison in the first place.
Active as an elder in Chattanooga's First Presbyterian Church and in other Christian and civic affairs, Ingvalson was honored with the Chattanooga Bar Association's Liberty Bell Award, the Sertoma Service to Mankind Award, and a national award from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge for his outstanding achievements.
Ingvalson will be remembered warmly for his Christian, military and civic contributions.
He is a justly honored part of our Chattanooga community.