Monday, May 26, 2008

Who's a hero to you?

We often hear people speak of sports heroes, and in the broadest sense of the word, I guess that's OK, but when I speak of heroes, sports figures aren't the first people who come to mind. However, former baseball player and venerable announcer Jerry Coleman, who was on one of the ESPN morning shows today, certainly fits the bill. Coleman is a decorated Marine veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and he spoke about heroism. Coleman doesn't consider himself a hero. In his eyes, the heroes are the ones who didn't come back from the wars. In its strictest definition, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, a hero is "a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who risked or sacrificed his or her life." I am an Army veteran, but I was never called upon to put my life on the line. In short, I'm no hero. Obviously, the young man from Western Pennsylvania who recently was honored posthumously with the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a hand grenade to save his comrades in Iraq qualifies as a hero, but in my opinion, just serving somewhere in a war zone, by itself, doesn't make one a hero. To some people, the word "hero" doesn't have only a military connotation. A hero to some might be the person who gives of themselves to help the less fortunate, or a single mother who works two jobs to give her children a better life. What do you think?



Blogger PRIguy said...

The word "hero" is overused, and has been for quite some time. I mulled this topic over for a bit, and I think that there are two kinds of heroes, both with specific characteristics. The young man Brant mentions is undoubtedly a hero. Military heroes are one kind I mentioned. I agree with Brant that simply being in the military doesn't qualify one as an actual hero. Brave, yes. But not all of them are heroes.

I don't have a sports hero. I think that's kind of silly. I can see where one can look up to an athlete, to aspire to perform at the same level, to play a sport with the same dedication and passion that, say, Brett Favre played with. But they're aren't heroes or even role models. They're athletes, and a select few of them have characteristics and character that I would like my children to emulate.

Having not served in the military, and not being such a big sports fan that I have someone I want to be like, I had to think about my definition of a hero and perhaps select one for this post.

Henry Thomas Bell. He died eleven years ago. He worked at Fort Lee here in Virginia as a civilian after serving a tour of duty in Korea. He retired on a small civil service pension. He was a recovering alcoholic. He told fantastic stories - rowdy, ribald, and just plain funny - and when he was really rolling, he took his dentures out and put them in his shirt pocket so they wouldn't fly out as he laughed with his audience. He made the best ham I ever ate. He could fix anything. Most people knew this version of Henry, and they all loved him.

There was another Henry Bell, though. He never owned a home; he rented a small place where he raised a couple of pigs and some chickens. Henry knew everyone in the small rural area he lived in. He loved to cook and he loved to shop for groceries. I loved hanging out with him, and he and I went to the grocery store together many times. He always picked up some extra canned goods, an extra pound of bologna or a few jars of peanut butter and some milk, coffee or bread. He'd buy two hams, or more ground beef than he needed. He never said anything about it.

On the way home from the store, we'd stop at a house where a woman lived who recently left her abusive husband, or a woman who was recently widowed, or a single mother who was having a tough time making ends meet. He always told them the same thing: "I don't know what I was thinking. I bought way too much food and it's going to go bad. Here." And we'd leave.

He fixed toilets, air conditioners, cars, windows...and he did it for anyone who needed it. He ran moonshine as a teenager and he was an old southern redneck. But to him, people had no color. A white person in need was the very same to him as a black person in need. Everyone benefited from knowing Henry. He never went to church. But he did what millions of church-going people are supposed to do but never do: live the Golden Rule. He never asked for anything in return. He never took money, although his paltry pension made for some tight financial straits at times. He never complained when someone failed to thank him...and a few did forget. He just did it because he knew they were less fortunate than he was. That, my friends, is a hero.

May 26, 2008 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Agreed. And it would be hard to say it any better than that.

May 26, 2008 at 9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, thought about the term for some time. And I have to third Priguy's opinion that heroism is an overused term. But then, so is love, and so is hate and so many other words that mean so much and are used so crassly.

I got my worn book of Ralph Waldo Emerson essays out and read his work on Heroism. I know I agree, and I know that I can't write anything that would express my opinion as well as he does for me:

"The heroic soul does not sell its justice and its nobleness. It does not ask to dine nicely, and to sleep warm. The essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough."

-amanda (can't log on for whatever reason)

May 27, 2008 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger Tracy J. said...

My husband and I were just discussing the overuse of the word hero the other day. We both agree that a hero is a soldier that goes above and beyond his call of duty such as the one priguy mentioned. However is a single mom working two jobs really a hero? She obviously is to her kids but she is doing what she has to do, it's her job,just like the firefighters and police that are out there doing their job. That doens't necessarily make them heroes, unless they do something extraordinary. I wish the media would quite calling every military person, every firefighter and police officer heroes for doing thier jobs. That is what they get paid for and they knew what risks they would be facing by taking those jobs. A single mom also knoew the hardships she would face raising her family, most mothers will do whatever it takes to keep the family going but they aren't really heroes.

May 27, 2008 at 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But isn't a hero intrinsically someone who knows there is a risk and does what needs to be done anyway? Not every single mother is hero and not every soldier is a hero. It isn't a matter of vocation as much as a conscious choice by someone to do what is difficult instead of what is easy.
-amanda (again)

May 27, 2008 at 5:18 PM  
Blogger Scott Beveridge said...

We all need heroes.

May 27, 2008 at 11:40 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I once read a description of the word "class" as doing the right thing when there is no one there to see you do it. In a way, this applies to the word "hero" too.

It seems we're all in agreement on the fact that the word is overused and applied to far too many people who are just doing what they have to do. Words like "character," "dedication," "responsibility," and "ethical" are underused for people like firefighters, the ubiquitous single mother, police and so on.

I went through a tough four-year period of intermittent jobs and sparse income. But I had two young children and I was paying child support. I worked two jobs for all of that time and up to as many as four jobs for a brief period (they were part-time: freelance writing, substitute teaching). But that made me nothing more than a guy trying to make ends meet. You do what you have to do, whether you sign up for military service, choose a career in police work or as a firefighter, or you opt to either leave a spouse or simply spit out babies at random and hope the system helps take care of them.

May 28, 2008 at 5:03 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

John J Rambo

May 31, 2008 at 1:03 PM  

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