Over the years I have written many tributes to heroes, recounting the stories of those who face the horrors of war with stoicism and unspeakable bravery. Sometimes the tales are about an act of patriotism, or valor, or compassion. Rarely have I written about a dear friend who has all those qualities.
His name is Donn Sickles, an Air Force veteran and career FBI man. The battles he fought rarely made the headlines, known only by those who worked with him. His work environment was – to say the least – hazardous in the extreme, yet Donn placed himself in harm’s way over and over, despite being threatened by some of the world’s most notorious criminals.
He did it to serve his country.
I met him in church. Since he was an Elder there, we first got to know each other as mentor and mentee. He the wise, scholarly and patient teacher; me, the rough and immature student. My family adored him – my daughter even began to call him Uncle Donn. From the beginning, he was the rock – the one to whom the congregation looked for counsel, based firmly on the foundation laid out in the Bible.
Over the years our friendship grew deeper. Although he is twenty years my senior, we talked as if we had grown up together – two buddies shooting the breeze over a weekly breakfast.
He told me he had cancer while we were watching a basketball game. The treatment would take care of it, surely, so he underwent a radiation regimen. Later came the chemo, when traces of the disease had been found in other parts of his body. A new drug worked for a while, but eventually the insidious cancer cells adapted and began to multiply again.
Through it all, we prayed. Prayed for a miracle. Prayed for a cure. Prayed that he would be allowed to stay with us for a little longer. If nothing else, we prayed that he would feel no pain.
Because we needed him.
He taught me the deeper meaning of life and faith, and what is truly important; all the while allowing me my failures and inadequacies. Grace is important. Fellowship and friendship are important. So are service and patriotism.
He never complained, only allowing a wince or shudder when his body protested. Ironically, most of his discomfort was a result of the aggressive treatment, not the cancer. The disease itself never caused any pain, as it should have.
It was a miracle.
Now Donn is in the phase of life we will all enter. The former FBI agent who, just five years ago, could have had me in a headlock in seconds, now faces the last chapter. He is facing the journey with stoicism and bravery. He is patriotic to the core. His compassion has never wavered. He continues to set the example to the end.
He does not fear death. He is old school. His only concern is for the well being of his wife and family. Not long ago he told me, “I have the easy part.”
Heroes come in many forms. Donn Sickles – Uncle Donn – my friend and teacher, is a hero in every sense of the word.
Yours has been a life well-played, my friend. On behalf of the many, many people whose lives are better for having known you, I salute you for all you have accomplished.