My old father was one of those kids who joined up at 16, landed on a beach in France, and fought his way through Europe. He was a respected soldier who had a fine military career, commanding an army battalion, and serving as the military attaché to Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Along the way, he even met the queen a couple of times--not too bad for a working class kid from Toronto.
He was affectionately referred to as "the Colonel" in his later years, but spoke only rarely about his military experiences. Some people might like to say he was a hero. He did fight bravely and still carried shrapnel in his body to his dying day. But he once told me that, when he joined up, he and his buddies didn't head to fight with the notion of giving their lives for their country. For them, it was an adventure. They were off to places they'd only read and dreamed about, to face what they never probably imagined. And, when circumstances caused them to do something heroic, or brave, it was for their comrades that they put themselves in harm's way and sometimes paid the ultimate price. He never would have considered himself a hero, just a soldier.
His great love was golf. I really miss him.