Fred Mooney walked into Anthony & Dziadowicz Funeral Home in Munster on March 7. A lot was on the mind and heart of the assistant boys basketball coach at Marquette.
His Blazers were prepping to play Washington Township later that night in the Class A Morgan Township Sectional semifinal.
Mooney was there to remember and honor his "Uncle George," George Bosnich, an 88-year-old Hammond man who had gone on to a better place.
Bosnich had been in the U.S. Army's "Fighting 69th" in Europe during World War II. He gave Mooney a Nazi flag he took off a broken window in Germany.
All the men in his unit had signed the evil piece of cloth. Bosnich was the last member to die.
America's "Greatest Generation" is getting smaller every day. The men who gave us our freedom, which most of us don't notice with a yawn, are slipping into the ages. Sadly, on both accounts.
As Mooney drove into the parking lot, a man was standing there with a straw hat that said, "U.S.S. Strong, DD-467." It was a destroyer that was sunk by the Japanese in the Pacific.
The cap belong to Jim Merriman, a 91-year-old man from Schererville.
He and Bosnich became best friends at Hammond's VFW Post 802.
Merriman and Mooney talked for an hour. Unwittingly Merriman became a spiritual leader for Marquette's run in winning the Class A state championship.
"Jim was as sharp as a tack," Mooney said. "This man is well-versed. Well-read. He and my uncle epitomize a hero.
"I laughed. I cried. I was humbled."
After the conversation, Marquette head coach Donovan Garletts asked Mooney to speak to the Blazers before the tipoff. He asked the team one question before they ran out on the floor.
"How bad do you want to survive?" Mooney said. "When I heard his story it blew me away. I was heartbroken. I was in awe."
The ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo in the keel and broke in half.
Those who survived the blasts were in the water. Depth charges and blood and sharks were in those troubled waters. Merriman looked Mooney right in the eye and said, "I was mad as hell. I was scared to death. But I made a decision. I wanted to live."
Mooney coached basketball at Hammond Baptist for 35 years, where he also taught history. These real stories of heroism are so much more important than tweets or Facebook nonsense. But what are the eyes of our culture looking at? 24/7?
Before the state final against Barr-Reeve, Garletts picked up on the story. He told the Blazers, "The life nets are in the water. The ropes are over the side. But you're not there yet. You have to fight to survive.' It was our battle cry. Our kids rallied behind his story."
The 70-66 overtime win made heroes of the Marquette players as they set history. Yes, in a different way that can't be compared to Bosnich and Merriman.
Mooney took Merriman out for lunch last week. This bond is secure. He won 640 games at Hammond Baptist. He just won his first Indiana state title. His words bridged two different generations and the Blazers understood it.
"You're in the water," Mooney said. "Do you want to live? Is the swim worth it? These men were the epitome of what a hero is."
My uncle, Roy Kolas, a long-time Hammond business man, served in Europe. He's going through a tough fight now. I want to thank him for his service, his heroism, his glowing light of faith.
Your generation was the greatest. Mine? Not so much. I better tweet that quick.