Of Heroes and Unicorns

How would you respond if someone asked, “Who is your hero?” When the question was posed to me, my first thought was, I don’t have one. Then my analyzer side kicked in, and I wondered why that was the case.

The term hero is thrown around quite easily by many people. They talk about heroes in uniform, heroes in battle, heroes in sports, and heroes in love stories, to name a few. But, what is a hero?

Most would likely agree on the designation of hero for the first responders who rushed into the World Trade Center on 9-11. Likewise, the passengers and crew who forced Flight 93 to crash in Pennsylvania earned the title, as did many at the Pentagon. Yet, those tragedies, like Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Dunkirk, and others throughout history account for only a small percentage of those who might be called heroes in history, in legend, in family journals, and the sports news.

Over the decades, I observed and met “heroes” of one stripe or another. From local heroes to national heroes, I saw the good and the bad that came with the label and the gifts that led to that label. From those who dined with presidents to people who sometimes did not know when they would next eat, I watched them do both good and bad, sometimes being lauded and sometimes being damned.

Yes, that is a problem with heroes. Once they’re labeled, living up to the mantle is difficult, and many fail in time. So, what is a hero? Is it someone who does something heroic once, or does that person need to be super all the time?

Is someone a hero for rescuing a baby from an armed kidnapper? Yet, someone else is only a good samaritan for rushing onto a crowded roadway to save a child from the speeding traffic? What about the cop who tries valiantly to pull the driver from a burning car but only succeeds in scaring himself for life.

The reality seems to be somewhat akin to the title above. Heroes and heroism are both reality and myth. If not myth, at least in the eye of the beholder. Take the only person I can think of as a true hero at the moment.

He was a young man, just twenty-one years old. He never amounted to much as he grew up. He cared little for school, hated rules, and lived as much on the edge as he could in those days and at his age. Trying to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam, he earned a GED and enlisted, winding up in Germany.

True to form, he grew bored in Germany and volunteered for Vietnam. Less than a year later, he died in the mud defending his base and those within it from a surprise Viet Cong attack. He received a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a military funeral, and his name on The Wall in Washington for his efforts.

He did not have to die that night. He could have stayed safely in his bunker, but that was not his way. He took the fight to the enemy and paid the ultimate price. He was a hero to those with whom he served. I know because I’ve spoken to some of them and read the after-action report.

Yes, to them, he was a hero. To me, my little brother. I still wonder what might have happened if he’d played it safe that night.

© oneoldcop – 2021

About S. Eric Jackson

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4 Responses to Of Heroes and Unicorns

  1. An excellent post that makes one think, and that is what it is all about. Sorry, to hear about your little brother, but I am sure he did not die in vain and obviously his memory lives on. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Regards, Phil at http://knowledge-data.net

    • Thanks for the kind words. David died doing what he felt was the right thing. I’ve spoken to two of the guys who served with him in Vietnam and communicated with others familiar with the incident. One of his bunkmates had already rotated home and the other chose to stay safe in his bunker. He has some horrible survivor’s guilt because he found David’s body when the sun came up that morning. The other actually came to visit his grave and we met for lunch. We stay in touch via FB. Thanks again.

  2. Sad but heartwarming too.

    • Thanks for taking time to reply. It was a difficult piece to write in some ways. Your and Phil’s responses make me think I got close to what I was hoping for. Congrats on the Penelope books.

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