What does a veteran do? Are all veterans heroes?

Today, lets think about what it means to be a veteran. I served four years during the Vietnam war era with the US Air force. Today, I suppose I would be called a hero but then and now I never thought of myself in those terms. Many other men and women have paid for this countries freedom with their lives or their bodies and for them the term would certainly apply. However, are all veterans heroes and what about those others who risk their lives for our country but have never served; should they be called heroes? Are the people occupying Wall Street today heroes?

In “No time for heroes” an article by Bernie Reeves (May 2001), he writes: “Yet, even the most decorated veterans of the World War II era make it clear that they did not set out to become heroes, they just did their job. Heroes, it seems, are not born but created by events. And the events have to be interpreted in the right light to qualify for hero creation.” We have seen periods in history where heroes were laughed at as romantic fools and other periods where the lack of heroes was bemoaned. Since 911, it seems that we are on the upswing, with heroism being lauded practically daily in the news or TV media.

We have anti-heroes, superheroes, cowards who become heroes and people for whom heroism is a part of their daily job. At one point, a hero was anyone who risked their life to save others when they were under no obligation to do so. We did not think of a hero or heroine as someone “just” doing their job. Today though, doctors, soldiers, nurses, fire-people and police are all hailed as heroes. There was a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson called “Richard Cory” in which everyone admired and envied the dapper and suave Mr. Cory.

In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Dr. Ossian Sweet, (1905-1960) an African American man who stood up for what he believed and was a hero by any stretch of the imagination said: “I have to die a man or live a coward.” Dr. Sweet tried his hand at politics, running four times and losing each time. He married his childhood sweetheart but divorced and remarried; the second also ending in divorce. In 1960, after years of ill health and depression, he was found dead, a bullet through his head and a revolver in his hand. It is tough work being a hero.

We admire heroes and heroines and the world is a better place because of them. We each wonder in our hearts when we hear some heroic episode what we would have done. Would we have just stood there watching or would we have run into the burning house, jumped into the icy pond or charged the raging bull. I hope that our world will always have a time for heroes and heroines and not make a mockery of their bravery by downgrading it to merely living. People who become heroes and heroines may not be any different from the rest of us, but in that one second where they act and behave differently from the crowd, it forever puts them in a new league. They may never be able to live up to the expectations that attend their heroism but we should all be forever grateful to them. Heroes and heroines show us a world that could be when selfishness and greed are cast aside for love and loyalty.

Where do heroes/heroines get the time? Where do they get the courage? How many of us would risk our lives for an idea, for someone we did not know, for a principle that most people would hate us for upholding? Are we all heroes for going about our daily lives and trying to live the best we can? Or should the label be reserved for those special men and women who put their lives on the line at a time when most of the rest of the world will just stand by watching?

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 16:14:42

    I don't know, but I think you put your finger on something when you talked twice about someone who does something while others stand there watching. I read about a psychology experiment years ago. People were asked to wait in a room for an appointment. They then heard sounds of heavy crashing equipment and a person yelling, “Help me!” from another room. If they were alone, almost everyone went to see what was going on and if they could help. If another person (a confederate of the psychologists) was also waiting in the room and did nothing, a very high percentage of subjects also did nothing. We tend to copy each other's behavior, and that's often a good thing, but some run toward the danger that everyone else is running away from. Whether they are heroes or mere conformists may depend on their reference group. The soldier who thinks the mission is foolish may continue on anyway because he is copying what the other members of his unit are doing. A fireman or a cop may be afraid of how other firemen or cops would react if he were to break ranks. We can never get to the bottom of what ultimately motivated someone (even ourselves), and thus we never can say for sure if someone was a hero (as opposed to conforming to expectations or just caring little about their lives). Still, I think their are heroes, and on this day, I salute them.



  2. John Persico
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 17:28:47

    Thanks for the comments Bruce. Some might say the quality was ineffable. I tend to think we use the term too loosely but perhaps the only person who really knows is the hero themselves.



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