A few years ago I was asked to be one of the judges in the American Legion’s Essay Writing Contest that rewards the area’s best and brightest students with a generous scholarship, one of the many great things this wonderful organization does.
The essay question was simple. Does America still have heroes?
And these were High School Students who wrote the essay and then recorded it for the judges to listen to the student read their work. And we “graded” each essay for specific items and tallied the scores.
Several of the essays were built around the idea that anyone who was in the military, the police or fire department is automatically a hero. Being a Navy Veteran, I have a problem with that premise. I served, sure. Just like millions of others. I did my duty, I obeyed orders.
But I am n0 hero just because I joined the Service. That is ridiculous.
Let’s look at the definition of hero.
1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
There are a couple more definitions that are not applicable (unless you really like sub sandwiches – aka heroes).
But I didn’t distinguish myself with courage among my fellow Sailors. I didn’t jump on a grenade or pull wounded fighters from the line of fire. So I reject the notion that I am a hero because I served. And as I pondered this question during and for a long time after the essay contest, the only conclusion I can come to is a hero, to me, must perform some action. It is not a passive activity that makes you a hero. Action is required. And specific action.
Simply serving in the military does not make someone a hero.
So when Donald Trump made his statement that is driving the media and the rest of the Republican field crazy that John McCain is not a hero because he was captured, I have to agree. Being captured is a passive act. There is nothing distinguished, no courageous act was performed, no brave deed and certainty an imprisoned soldier is no role model.
So why do people call John McCain a war hero? I can find nothing he did above and beyond following orders. He was shot down, wounded and spent over 5 years in captivity. Now he deserves respect for what he endured. He was in harms way dropping bombs just like the rest of his squadron. Were the ones that made it back to the ship heroes for that mission? I have never heard a name other than McCain out of that group.
Did he place a bomb in a strategic place that saved some lives? Not that I know of. He just flew a mission like the rest of the squadron and didn’t make it back.
And are wounded Soldiers, Sailors and Marines automatically heroes by virtue of being shot or having an IED explode near them? I would have to say they did nothing heroic to earn the title hero. They are owed a tremendous debt of gratitude and the best medical care available for their sacrifice. And they deserve the honor and respect of everyone in the country. But does being shot make you a hero? Again, I think not.
Even those making the ultimate sacrifice are not heroes absent any heroic deed.
And I don’t mean this as a slap at my frllow Veterans who server, were wounded or who gave all they had to give in service of this country.
But to throw the term hero around so liberally is to diminish those who actually perform heroic deeds. The cop that crawls to pull a child out of the line of fire at an active shooting. The fireman that runs in a burning building to save someone. The Marine that jumps on a grenade to save his fellow Marines. These are heroes. These are the people deserving of our respect and deserving of the title hero. They performed a heroic action.
Would anyone call John Kerry a war hero? He received several Purple Hearts. I certainly wouldn’t. And like McCain, his actions after the war cancelled out any honor that might have been due him.
Judging that essay contest had me do a lot of thinking about who is and who is not a hero. Who deserves the title and who does not.
In this “everybody gets a trophy” country, we are far too free with ultimate accolades which makes the people who do truly heroic deeds seem, well, ordinary.
So I side with Donald Trump on this. But the Donald seems to have moved on to a bit of Lindsey Graham bashing. Now that may make Trump a hero in my book.
Article written by: Tom White