Thursday, April 19, 2012


This is about heroes. There was an interesting article in yesterday’s local newspaper. It was one of those Dear Abby type syndicated features, but it wasn’t Dear Abby (since she has retired) and the columnist was a man. Some youngster wrote in and asked some kind of question and mentioned that Tim Tebow, the former Denver Bronco quarterback who was recently traded to the New York Jets was a “hero” to him. The author of the column disagreed about describing Mr. Tebow as a “hero.”

Something struck me like a small bolt of lightening when I awakened this morning. All this hero and idol “worship” has been something I’ve been pondering for quite a while. Who are my heroes? I believe this word has been wrongly attributed and allowed to overlap and cause a warped sense of values not only within the adult population, but especially in the up and coming youth and future leaders of our society. So, bear with me. Agree. Disagree. Take me to task if you choose to. Here is how I define a hero.

Hero - Definition

I was somewhat surprised when I went to the dictionary to look up the definition and found that it was quite a bit broader then I expected. The hero concept dates back to ancient Greece and began as a warrior, typically of great virtue and prowess, usually with certain divine qualities. The word is also used in literary and theatrical terms, and this most likely can be attributed to the Greek tragedy form of poems and plays, as the lead male character. There is some form of godlike quality that is attributed to a person labeled as a hero. This is where my thinking tended to agree with the newspaper columnist. I think the word “hero” has become too loosely attributed to too many people.

Discounting the literary and theatrical use of the word, allow me to list a few examples of who I believe heroes are – and I do not distinguish a hero by gender or any other qualities other then, typically, being human. There have been animals of various kinds that have been attributed as having performed heroic deeds, but I’m not going there.

A Hero Is:

A combat military person who has risked his or her life to save fellow military comrades and innocent civilians from death or severe injury or in some manner sacrificed life or limb to defend his or her country.

A police officer who places his or her life on the line to save or protect others from death or certain injury

A firefighter who has risked his or her life to save others from death or injury.

An individual who does something totally out of character and without concern for his or her own safety or life to save another person from death or certain injury.

Medical professionals who work tirelessly to save lives and ease the pain in war, natural disasters, man made disasters and other similar events.

Ministers, priests, nuns, psychologists, social workers, mediators, rescue workers and others who put their own lives in harms way to save people from domestic violence, gang violence, the ravages of drugs and other destructive forms of addiction, natural disasters and even preventing needless suicides.

This is certainly not a complete list, but it illustrates how I define real heroes as opposed to celebrity icons. We often hear our military personnel all referred to as heroes with such statements as "our returning heroes from Iraq or Afghanistan." Does that mean those who went and returned and have been stateside or those you haven't gone are any lesser soldiers? I wonder what ever happened to our "returning heroes" from Vietnam. It was the same military. It was the same job. They faced the same dangers and risks. Why does one group deserve the label hero and the other doesn’t? 

Nearly 2,600,000 military personnel served in the Vietnam theater. Over 58,000 of them returned in caskets or are buried somewhere in Vietnam or southeast Asia compared to about 6,200 from both Iraq AND Afghanistan. There are still approximately 1,672 Missing In Action in Vietnam. There is no difference in my mind. They are ALL brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, yet there still seems to be some form of, often not so subtle, distinction between the two groups of patriots and heroes from the two eras. 

I’m a Vietnam era veteran myself. I did not serve in Vietnam. I served stateside. I don't consider myself a hero. But, I do consider myself to be a patriotic member of our society who was called to serve my country and I answered the call. I’m proud to be one of the 9% of the U.S. population who has served or is currently serving our country. A patriotic veteran, yes, but I’m not a hero. 

The heroes are the men and women who put their lives on the line, did their jobs and did their best to save their comrades and innocent civilians if there was a situation that required it. The men and women who served in Iraq and are still serving in Afghanistan are not all heroes. But, they certainly are brave men and women who are patriotic military personnel and have volunteered to serve their country however their country sees fit to use them. But, not all of then have performed heroic deeds. They certainly deserve our utmost respect and thanks for doing this, often, life-threatening job. I doubt that they consider themselves heroes when compared to their buddies who returned home in a casket or minus limbs after saving others around them from death or worse injury. And I don't believe most true heroes set out to become heroes. I believe they rose to the occasion when a situation presented itself and they acted spontaneously without thinking about the potential personal risks and consequences.

I truly believe military personnel, police, firefighters and the others I mentioned, if they are true to themselves don’t enlist in these professions to be heroes. They do it because it is a job that can support them and their families. Perhaps, also, because they have some drive or personal calling to serve, protect, defend and, in other ways, help others. Any one of them . . . or you or I . . . could become a true hero if a situation were to present itself and we rise to the occasion without concern for our own safety. It happens everyday around the world and in our own cities and towns. I don’t  have to say any more then 9/11 to bring to mind an untold number of true heroes in uniform and civilian.

Non-heroes Are:

Those who are not heroes in my belief system include Tim Tebow or Kobe Bryant or the late Joe Paterno or any other athlete, movie star or other pop culture person. Let’s see. How heroic is it to be paid $5 million to $20 million a year to play baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey or any other professional sport? When do these people get called on to save someone’s life on the baseball diamond or the football field? Of course, understandably, any of these people could actually become a true hero by performing some selfless act that puts him or her in serious jeopardy of life changing injury or death to save another person or group of people from serious injury or death. Then he or she certainly would qualify to be respected as a true hero.

Perhaps some of these celebrity personalities might qualify as role models or pop idols. However, there are serious considerations for designations like these as well and this may be the topic of another of my musings. But are they heroes? Let me put it this way. Justify to me how Tim Tebow (and I’m not picking on him personally, only as a representative of a certain identifiable group of individuals) with his $6.6 million per year contract to play football compares to a New York City fireman or police officer, with a median salary of about $50,000.00 per year, who went up in the World Trade Towers on 9/11 and may have saved tens or hundreds of people’s lives before his remains became part of the ground where a memorial was recently built and a new trade center is under construction. Or, perhaps we should consider a comparison with a marine, making, perhaps $30,000.00 per year, who threw himself on a hand grenade to save half a dozen or more of his comrades, or lost a leg or two attempting to save a fallen comrade as he carried him through a live mine field. Maybe another comparison might be the mayor of Newark, NJ who recently went into a blazing, smoked filled house, found his neighbor and brought her out to safety, saving her life instead of waiting  for the fire department to arrive.

It’s a simple question of values. Living free is ALL about values. Those who have served in the military or police or fire or many other positions where they are called on to potentially perform heroic acts as part of their daily lives have an unspoken understanding of the values that freedom requires. No one can live free unless he or she knows what his or her values are. If one doesn’t understand or hasn’t defined what personal freedom is and precisely what it means in his or her own life, then one can’t truly experience living free. Other then the broad range definition of the heroes I’ve mentioned, I’m not sure I have any personal heroes. I do have a number of people I’ve just redefined as role models. But, that’s a topic for another time. Have you defined heroism? Who are your heroes? I’m going to be working on that question for myself. I’d love to have you share your heroes and thoughts with the other readers and me.


Ramona Lotus said...

Hi Ed,
Most hero's are not known, I think. They don't wait around for applause. They go in, do it, and go out - on for the next need to fill. I think we need hero's, aspirations; those who have made what we embody as value. For some it is the football player or Trump. But that I think just shows where a person's value system is at. I also think we project our values outside ourself, so that we can witness it. We cannot usually see the weakness or strengths in ourselves, but it is so easily seen in others. Thus our friends, enemies, triggers, loves. My opinion. I am my own hero. I have seen strength and seen it reflected back to me. I have experienced weakness, and found it my greatest strength. It is for all of us to find ourselves, and walk in our truth. I am human, and I fall, and there is so much strength in claiming that. You are strong in your weakness and your answers are within, reflected in your hero. Be.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Nicely stated, Ramona. I appreciate your thoughts.

You're right about heroes. Most don't become heroes for recognition or the applause. They do it because whatever it was, needed to be done and done then - instantly!

And you also nailed it on the values issue. It is my opinion that over the years, as a society, we've begun misplacing some of our values based on marketing "hype" and an obsession with various forms of violence portrayed on the movie and TV screens and through athletes and sportscasters.

Maybe I'm a wuss, but I don't find it heroic to beat the hell out of someone whether in the boxing, kick boxing or wrestling rings or on football fields, hockey rinks, etc. and potentially maiming for life or killing others when they are not mortal enemies. There are too many examples of faux heros and not enough of true heroes these days. But,again, that's just my opinion.

Unknown said...

A guy I knew in WV walked into a burning house and then out a upper floor window......burnt badly...with a 9 year old girl wrapped in a blanket. He hit the parked car first to take the impact on the way down.

And he did this driving by a strangers house to save someone he didn't know. The girl was unhurt,that's a hero. I tell people to go on the MEDAL OF HONOR website and read a little, the stories are always amazing.

Great blog.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Wow! Now that's a great hero story. Thanks for posting it here.

You are certainly right about the list of Medal of Honor winners. Some of these people probably qualify for "Super Hero" status

And, thanks, glad you like the blog.