Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado
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Last night, as I was relaxing with my children watching Superman on the television, a thought occurred to me. "Super heroes really aren't that great." I'll admit it's pretty impressive that they can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Who wouldn't want to be able to fly? I'll even acknowledge that having x-ray vision could come in handy from time to time.
Though it's fun to watch super heroes capture the bad guys and restore justice to the world, as heroes, they don't do much to inspire us. I'm sure every child, and maybe adult for that matter, fantasizes about being a super hero and saving the world. Sooner or later, we come back to the reality that we are not super heroes, so we simply sit around doing nothing at all. It doesn't take long for us to become content in our complacency. We remind ourselves that we would be heroes, if only we had the attributes required to be heroes. Then, along comes someone who challenges us, a person who, like us, is just an ordinary person but who does something extraordinary and in a moment becomes a hero.
Ordinary heroes come from many walks of life: policemen, firemen, nurses, doctors, etc. Of all the heroes I have ever met, I think one group best sums up what makes a hero. These men are heroes not because they had great strength or powers; these men are heroes because they selflessly gave of themselves. The thread that these men have in common is that they all wear the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award that a soldier can receive in the United States military. To date, there are only 91 living Medal of Honor recipients. In order to understand what makes these men the kind of heroes that should be our role models for today; we must first examine who they are and what they did. In order to pass the test for being a good hero role model, the hero must be an ordinary person, one everyone can identify with. The second requirement is that the hero must have done something for someone else, with no thought for themselves. The last requirement must be that the hero should inspire others to be heroes also.
When it comes to heroes who are ordinary people, Medal of Honor recipients are the perfect example. They range in height from five feet two inches to over six feet tall. They come from all ethnic backgrounds. Medal of Honor Recipients come from all economic backgrounds, from the very poor to wealthy. They were athletes, valedictorians, dropouts and nerds; and some were even bullies. Everyone in the country can identify with at least one of these recipients.
One example of the recipients' diverse backgrounds can be found in Silvestre Herrera. Silvestre was living in Texas when he received his draft notice telling him he was required to fight for his country. As soon as Silvestre received his notice, he showed it to the man he called his father. His "father" read it and told Silvestre that he did not have to go and fight. "Why," asked the young son. Then his father explained that Silvestre was not an American citizen. As the story unraveled, Silvestre learned that he was actually a Mexican citizen. His parents had died when he was young, so his uncle brought him to the United States and raised him as his son. Silvestre knew that since he wasn't an American citizen, he didn't have to go to war. He also knew that he had lived in this country all his life and had enjoyed the freedoms that all Americans enjoy. As he thought about his wife and young children, he made the only decision that a hero could make; he wouldn't allow anyone to take his place. Silvestre went to war.
During one very intense battle of World War II when an enemy machine gun nest pinned down his platoon, young Silvestre Herrera determined to take the initiative and knock out the enemy position. Crossing a minefield between his platoon and the enemy guns, he stepped on a mine and severed his foot. Silvestre stood as best he could and continued to make his way towards the enemy when he stepped on another mine, severing the other foot. Despite great pain, Silvestre continued firing at the machine gun nest, holding the enemy off until help could arrive. For his brave actions he received the Medal of Honor. Because he was born a Mexican citizen, Mexico also gave him its equivalent to the Medal of Honor. Silvestre was so poor that when he got back to the United States, he couldn't even call his wife to tell her that we was coming home. It seems they lived in a very small house and couldn't afford a phone.
During one very intense battle of World War II when an enemy machine gun nest pinned down his platoon, young Silvestre Herrera determined to take the initiative and knock out the enemy position. Crossing a minefield between his platoon and the enemy guns, he stepped on a mine and severed his foot. Silvestre stood as best he could and continued to make his way towards the enemy when he stepped on another mine, severing the other foot. Despite great pain, Silvestre continued firing at the machine gun nest, holding the enemy off until help could arrive. For his brave actions he received the Medal of Honor. Because he was born a Mexican citizen, Mexico also gave him its equivalent to the Medal of Honor. Silvestre was so poor that when he got back to the United States, he couldn't even call his wife to tell her that he was coming home. It seems they lived in a very small house and couldn't afford a phone.
The Medal of Honor can only be received for heroic acts during time of war, and for this reason many people think of Medal of Honor Recipients as heroes for some "Rambo" type of aggressive action. While this may be true in some cases, it is also true that most Medal of Honor recipients received their award not for killing the enemy, but for heroic actions to defend and save the lives of fellow soldiers or civilians. Desmond Doss is one excellent example of such heroic dedication to his fellow man.
Desmond was a Seventh Day Adventist who, because of his religion, didn't believe in killing. He did, however, believe in serving his country. Desmond entered World War II as a conscious objector. He became a medic so that he could save lives. Most of the men in Desmond's battalion made fun of him because of his religious beliefs. They thought that his failure to carry a weapon was because he was a chicken. One day Desmond proved them wrong. During a very intense battle at Okinawa, his company advanced up an escarpment (a large cliff face). Soon they were overpowered by the enemy and everyone in the company retreated to the base of the escarpment. Everyone, that is except for Desmond, who remained to treat the wounded. Men from his company kept shouting for him to come down, but Desmond refused. Alone he treated the wounded, dodging the bullets of the enemy. One-by-one he lowered the wounded down the escarpment. That day he was credited with saving seventy-five lives, for which he received the Medal of Honor.
Our Country's few remaining Medal of Honor recipients are very patriotic men, highly involved in their communities. They spend much of their time visiting with and mentoring children. They tell young people a little about themselves and, as they share stories of their own youth, the kids in their audience soon realize they are a lot like this living hero. Then, these Medal of Honor heroes challenge their audience to become involved in their own communities. They remind the kids that heroes come in all sizes, and that ONE person CAN make a difference. Children come away from such talks with an enthusiasm that comes from knowing that they themselves are special. They see that they can accomplish anything.
It's true that most Medal of Honor Recipients don't posses any extraordinary talents, powers, or strengths. Most of them are very frail now, since the median age is more than 70 years old. Yet despite their frailty, they possess an inner strength that can't be found in a television super hero. Years ago there was a popular song, "We don't need another hero." I disagree. We do need more heroes. We just need the kind of heroes we can relate to, heroes who will inspire us to be heroes too.
Pam Sterner was a student at Pueblo (CO) Community College when she wrote this article for a mid-term English writing assignment. I felt this was a great introduction as we begin opening some areas of the Wall of Honor at the Hall of Heroes. You can meet these living heroes there, as well as at our "Profiles In Courage" Site.
Pam with WWII MOH recipient Richard Sorenson showing an award for Patriotism presented to her by members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in 1995. (Click on image for larger photo.) Pam presents the AMERICAN PATRIOT AWARD to one of her own heroes, Congressman Scott Mcinnis (R-CO), as entertainer WAYNE NEWTON looks on. (Click on image for larger photo.) The portion of our Wall of Honor Exhibit dedicated to America's Living Medal of Honor recipients is NOW OPEN. Click on the icon at the right to visit this site
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