Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

My Heroes

              Growing up I remember reading about heroes. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, Sergeant Audie Murphy, Sergeant Alvin York, Harriet Tubman, Davy Crockett, Ira Hayes, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Jackie Robinson, to name a few.

Let me ask you: Have you heard about any heroes lately? You see, I’m very careful of who I regard as a hero. There are numerous definitions for hero. However, the definition I choose to use is, “A hero is a person who performs extraordinary deeds for the benefit of others.” Now add this as part of the definition: “a very brave person, one who has committed a courageous act.”

So, with those definitions, let me state what I do not think merits hero status. First: athletes. Particularly, football players. I may get in trouble with my barbershop pals because we just performed our annual concert in which we sang a song entitled, Football Hero. But seriously, playing football, even if you’re the best at what you do, in no way raises you to hero status. It’s a game.

Second: movie stars. John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart are actors – not heroes. I love these guys as actors! They frequently played the roles of real-life heroes. And unquestionably they are great actors. But they are not heroes.

Third: politicians. There is far too much self-aggrandizement, egotism, and personal advancement in the halls of government at all levels. Some of their adherents will blindly follow their rise to power believing these elected officials are above reproach. They may be well-intentioned, but they frequently delve into sycophantic patterns willingly embracing political and philosophical tenets that they previously opposed. These politicians may attempt great things, but they are not heroes.

These three categories are not the only groups that I find unsuitable for heroes to emerge, but it will suffice for this article.

The folks that I find to be in the hero category are more likely to be unknown, rarely becoming a household name. In recent years I would add the name of Todd Beamer to my list. Couple that with firemen and policemen who charged into harm’s way knowing the dangers they faced. They went anyway. Hundreds lost their lives on 9-11.

Since then, I have been humbled by the courage and commitment of our young men and women serving in the best military in the world. They are not driven to serve by political ideology, or religious zeal, like so many of our nation’s enemies are. They simply love America, and believe she is a nation worth fighting for up to and including the laying down of their lives if need be.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and typically they are self-effacing. They do not believe they are doing anything extraordinary. They are convinced that anyone in their shoes would do the same thing. Just listen to the remarks made by the recipients of the Medal of Honor. There is no attempt to credit themselves for their recognition. In fact, most would say something like, “The real heroes are the ones who didn’t come home.”

Besides those I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my heroes today wear, or have worn a uniform: law enforcement, fire, and military. My brother, John, tops the list. He was a Marine helicopter pilot. He flew the CH46 Sea Knight in Vietnam in 1967 when Marine 2nd Lieutenant helicopter pilots had a 2 minute life expectancy in a combat zone. Despite that he racked up more than 220 combat missions, earning 11 air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). After completing five years of active duty he remained in the active reserve for the next 28 years, retiring as a colonel.

In my role as a Navy chaplain during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was my responsibility early on in that war to greet the planes bringing back our first wounded. Then, for those capable of continued service, I made arrangements for their reintroduction to their units once they were cleared. In all that time, not once did I hear a young sailor or Marine complain about what happened to them. In fact, many of them were anxious to rejoin their units and reengage in the fight. You won’t ever know their names. And truth be told, I have forgotten the names of most of them, but their attitude, their commitment to preserving our freedom, and their willingness to place on hold their futures so you and I can be secure in our homes is what makes them heroes to me.

November 10th is the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, and November 11th is Veterans Day. Take a moment to pray for our troops. And if you run into someone serving, or having served, just tell them “Thanks.” They will probably be embarrassed and not know what to say. But they will appreciate it more than you could possibly know.

You see, they are my kind of heroes.

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