What is a Hero

Daniel Hernandez, the young man who assisted in saving Congresswoman Gifford’s life, humbly refuses the moniker of hero. He says he only did a once in a lifetime act of humanity and a hero is the one who does it every day on rounds as first responders or firemen. Humbling, indeed.

But this reminds me of the story of a man I used to work with. He served in Vietnam and the pictures he brought in one day of himself and fellow soldiers were those of baby faces and innocence lost. Young, tender, early spring blossoms not yet hardened by time and reality.

He said that his unit came under attack one day while they were in the center of a village, unarmed, and many innocent people were being persecuted. Seeing a bus loaded with locals, he jumped on board to find the driver dead. Instinct kicked in and he took charge of the bus, got the soldiers on board and drove everyone to safety. Later he was honored with a medal of bravery and credited with saving the lives of every one on board.

His response; he did nothing out of bravery or heroism, just his own need to survive. He saw a bus and thought ‘there’s my way out’. If he could get others to safety with him, so be it. But he said it felt phony to him to accept the title ‘hero’ as he wasn’t intentionally thinking about saving others, just himself. I thought he was incredibly brave to admit that.

So what is a hero? Does one have to be intentionally putting their life at risk in order to save someone else? Can it be someone who reacts without any thought at all; just instinct; training meets opportunity? What if Daniel Hernandez hadn’t known what to do in that situation? What if the soldier didn’t know how to drive the bus?

I suspect Mr. Hernandez would have found someone who did know how to apply pressure to Mrs. Gifford’s wounds and we would still be calling him a hero. And I think the young man in Vietnam would have found someone who could drive the bus if he couldn’t have driven it himself. Everyone on that bus who continued to live and have families, children and grandchildren, probably could never be convinced that my friend is not a hero. He is to them and his name is probably spoken into future generations.

Police and firemen run into raging fires and gun fire, while most of us are running out. There is no question that we all consider them heroes. But there are small acts of heroism and bravery every day. Humankind has a long tradition of serving others. We all help in whatever way we can. Let’s try to go out today and be a hero to someone, whether it’s preparing a hot meal for an elderly person, feeding the wildlife who can’t find food in the snow, or whatever gesture is helpful to someone else.

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