Tag Archives: 9/11

What Makes Someone a Hero?

“Hero” is a word that’s misused all the time.  People who hit baseballs, throw footballs, or lob tennis balls are frequently labeled “heroes,” but they are really just paid athletes – not heroes.  It would be heroic if an athlete gave up a kidney for someone who needed it knowing that he or she would probably never play ball again without it.  You can’t be a hero without sacrifice. 

If benefiting somebody else results in no cost to you, you’re not being heroic.  “Hero” is a very special term.  For example, although he was damn courageous, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (the pilot who landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River and saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew aboard) was not a hero.  Yes, he ensured that the airplane didn’t hit any buildings and he saved a lot of people’s lives, but there was nothing for him to sacrifice because he was going down with everyone else.  Although he was courageous and kept his head while those around him were losing theirs, the term “hero” should not be applied.

By the same token, a person dealing with treatments for serious medical issues is not a hero either.  As brave as a person needs to be when going through something like that, they don’t have a choice.  There is no sacrifice involved on the behalf of another person.

I was recently watching the movie Act of Valor, which used real military guys to create a dramatic representation of a true story.  In one scene, the soldiers are clearing rooms in a building, and one of the guys goes into a room looking left and right, but he forgets to look up.  A bad guy perched on the scaffolding pulls the pin out of a grenade and tosses it into the room.  The soldier turns around to run out, but he sees his buddies entering that same room.  He has a choice to make: He can either run and see how far he can make it before the grenade explodes, or he can stay and protect his fellow soldiers.  To my shock and horror, he threw his body on the grenade, thereby taking the full force with his body.  It wasn’t pretty.  His buddies then shot the bad guy. 

That was the part of the movie I remember most.  This guy had a choice to make a sacrifice, and he did.  That was a heroic act.  He could have tried to run or throw himself behind something and let the other guys sink or swim on their own, but he chose to sacrifice himself. 

I remember back when our country first entered Iraq, a young soldier did the same thing.  He was clearing a room, saw a grenade, and threw his body down on it.  I remember being so incredibly upset because I was identifying with his mother, knowing and worrying that my kid might be in that same circumstance.  It was just terrifying.  But I knew his act was heroic – a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.  That “Band of Brothers” mentality which ennobles a person enough to sacrifice themselves for their buddies is a mind-blower. 

In my opinion, some of the most blatant acts of heroism ever known were performed by “The Righteous Gentiles.”  That’s what Israel called people who protected Jews from the German “Final Solution” during World War II.  These were folks who knew they could die and their children could be tortured and hung in the street as a message to others for what they did, but they risked everything and did it anyway.  When you read or see interviews with any of these people, they all say the exact same simple, humble thing: “It was the right thing to do.” 

I believe “doing the right thing” has a lot to do with how people are brought up.  For example, when my boy was growing up, I told him that I didn’t care about the zero-violence nonsense at school.  I said, “If somebody hits you, or even more importantly, threatens or hits somebody else, I expect you to intervene and we will deal with the principal later.” 

One day, he came home in trouble.  A boy had been picking on another boy at school, and my son punched the bully.  I took my son out to dinner and sent my husband to go deal with the principal.

In short, heroism is about making a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.  It’s serving others at a cost to you.  When those firemen, police officers and other folks looked up and saw the burning buildings on 9/11 with debris falling everywhere and smoke filling every breath, they made the decision to go into the buildings knowing full well that they may never come out again (and a lot of them didn’t).  That is heroism – not a guy who gets paid a lot of money to make field goals for people’s entertainment.

My Ride With A Gold Star Mom

Last Saturday, September 11, I was one of about 1000 motorcycle riders participating in “Ride to the Flags,” from Ventura Country to Malibu, California, where a display of almost 3000 flags will honor the lives lost to Islamic suicide bombers on September 11, 2001.  The ride was hosted by the Gary Sinise Charitable Foundation, and the proceeds go to the children of those who lose their lives in the service of our country’s defense against terrorism.  Pre-ride entertainment was offered by Glen Campbell, and Ann-Margret (a veteran of Vietnam-era USO entertainment) was there to send us all off with her kind words of love and support.

It was a fascinating experience.  This was the first major ride I’d done, and I’d never before witnessed over 1000 bikers and their spouses get together and mingle.  I pointed out to my friend Patrick (a Harley newbie) and my husband (a Harley veteran) how affectionate the couples were.  There were scores of husbands and wives, quite seasoned by time and riding, all in leather, chains, boots, head scarves and chaps, holding hands and wrapping arms around each other.  The amount of affection between couples was mirrored by the affection between “regular folks” – mostly strangers to one another.  It was the friendliest assemblage I’d ever had the pleasure to be with.

I was chatting with one woman who’d come over to introduce herself as a fan of my radio program.  Later, one of the organizers came to me and asked me if I’d be willing to ride a Gold Star mom on my bike.  For those of you who don’t know, a Gold Star mom is one who has lost her military child in the war on international terror.  I, of course, agreed on the spot, saying I’d be honored.  Well, who walked over to my bike but the mom I’d been chatting with.  I had no idea she had lost her child, and I just about collapsed in a heap of sobs.

As we rode through the windy mountain roads, I was very aware I had treasured cargo behind me on my bike.  It never left my mind she had produced a warrior who gave his life for me and you and every American.  As I have a son who was also in combat in Afghanistan, I kept thinking I could have been one of those moms, instead of one who is anxiously awaiting her son’s visit in a month or so.  I felt so bad for her, and worked so hard to drive the bike perfectly around those curves so as not to worry her.  When we reached Malibu, I hugged her and said, “What can I say? I am your friend.”  We exchanged email addresses, and she will forward me a photo of us taken on my bike before the ride.  I’ll post it on my website.

I considered her “hallowed ground,” and that is why I can’t understand why the Imam who wants to place a mosque near Ground Zero doesn’t get that is hallowed ground as well.

I was honored to take care of a Gold Star mom – a mom who made the ultimate sacrifice, not willingly, but nobly nonetheless.