i've made it no secret in these writings that i believe the word "hero" to be over-used and abused. in my eyes, it takes more than simply wearing a military or civilian uniform. it even takes more than dying, since that so often happens by accident or chance. no, a hero is someone who intentionally overcomes fear in a dangerous situation, and places him/herself at risk to save others. here are two shining examples from the era of my own military service, the vietnam war.
(1) what follows is a narrative sent to my by my good friend ed in tucson, arizona. it has been in circulation on the web for a while, but is still vivid and powerful.
"you're an 19 year old kid. you're critically wounded, and dying in the jungle in the Ia Drang Valley (portrayed in the mel gibson movie "We Were Soldiers"), 14 November 1965, LZ X-ray, vietnam . your infantry unit is outnumbered 8 to1, and the enemy fire is so intense, from 100 or 200 yards away, that your own infantry commander has ordered the medevac helicopters to stop coming in. you're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns, and you know you're not getting out. your family is half-way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you'll never see them again. as the world starts to fade in and, you know this is the day. then, over the machine gun noise, you faintly hear that sound of a helicopter, and you look up to see an unarmed Huey, but it doesn't seem real, because no medevac markings are on it. Ed Freeman is coming for you. he's not medevac, so it's not his job, but he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire, after the medevacs were ordered not to come. he's coming anyway. he drops it in, and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 2 or 3 of you on board. then he flies you up and out through the gunfire, to the doctors and nurses. and he kept coming back.... 13 more times..... and took about 30 of you and your buddies out, who would never have gotten out. Medal of Honor recipient Ed Freeman, died in 2008 at the age of 80, in boise, idaho."
(2) as described in an earlier entry, the second pilot i consider to be a true hero is hugh thompson, jr. on 16 march 1968, thompson was on a reconaissance mission when he happened to overfly the My Lai massacre in progress. seeing the murder of several hundred south vietnamese civilian men, women and children by u.s. army soldiers, thompson repeatedly landed his chopper to interfere with the carnage. he and his crew not only put their own lives at risk, but thompson put his reputation and military career on the line as well by reporting the killings, both on the radio and in written reports. he was subsequently vilified by both military peers and members of congress during investigations of the incident, but he persistently remained true to his sense of ethics. of all the officers and GIs who participated in the massacre, only lt. william calley was ever tried and convicted of war crimes. the stonewalling and cover-up were complete. Soldier's Medal recipient Hugh Thompson passed away in 2006 at the age of 62, in alexandria, louisiana.
naturally, these examples do not detract from the heroism and professionalism of present day military and civilian pilots, whether in an overseas war zone or fighting fires here at home. i salute you all.