Hard To Be A Hero

I’ve heard people say we need more heroes in today’s world, but I submit that we have tens of thousands--millions even--of heroes out there; they just don’t seek attention and don’t get noticed in the vast amount of generally negative news that we are subjected to daily.

I guess it also depends on how you define a hero. 

In the extreme definition, there are heroes such as the men and women in our military services who put their lives on the line for us, many times in places we’ve never heard of, doing things we’d never dream of. Among them are the true heroes who are recognized with medals for actions “above and beyond,” but for every medal awarded, 10 others probably did something equally heroic, but it wasn’t witnessed by somebody who took the time to recognize it.

Then there are our first responders--public safety men and women in law enforcement, fire and EMS who risk life and limb keeping us all safe from the dangers that exist in today’s complex society. If recognized they’ll normally say, “I was just doing my job,” but it is so much more than a mere job.

In both examples above, far too many of these heroes lose their lives helping others.

There are other kinds of heroes, such as the medical providers whose job involves taking care of others, saving lives multiple times each day. From volunteers who help guide patients through the halls to doctors and nurses and surgeons using their skills to combat ill health, everyone in the health care business is a hero in my book.

School teachers are heroes, too. These are people who literally have the future of our civilization in their hands--hands that are often tied by bureaucracy that places more emphasis on test scores than learning.

In a category of hero all their own are teachers who choose to work with special-needs children. The level of patience and dedication demonstrated by these men and women sometimes appears to exceed human expectations.

So how is a hero defined? It is generally accepted that heroes are people who, in the opinion of others, have heroic qualities or have performed a heroic act and are regarded as models or ideals. But if a man or woman performs a heroic act and doesn’t seek or receive the recognition that “others” think they should get, does that make them any less a hero?

I think the definition of a hero, or role model or ideal has become seriously disfigured in our modern world. In today’s information-intense society, word of the true heroes doesn’t often make it through the daily clatter of information. 

Instead, the headline grabbers are those doing nothing that should give them hero status; such as sports figures, media and entertainment “stars,” politicians, sensationalist talk-show hosts and others who are more self-serving than service-oriented.

I think the motivation to serve others is a central characteristic of a true hero. All the heroes I mentioned at the beginning of this missive aren’t in it for the money; unfortunately, their compensation is not commensurate with the important roles they play in our lives.

I think we all need heroes in our lives, whether it’s someone we know or someone we admire from afar. Some may feel that only young people need heroes, but I contend that you are never too old to have a hero.

I have a large portrait that hangs in front of my desk and it’s the first thing that I see when I turn my light on in the morning. It is a portrait of retired Marine General Raymond Davis, now deceased, a Medal of Honor recipient who fought in three wars and also was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star and a chest full of other medals, many of them for heroism and bravery.

The photo is one of him gazing up at a flag, saluting, wearing his MOH, with a look of humility that belies his bravery. There is a story behind the photo that I won’t bore you with but suffice it to say I was there when the photo was taken. I had the honor of knowing him personally and working with him on various civic projects. He was an honorable man, a southern gentleman from Fitzgerald, Ga., who rarely raised his voice and yet, when he spoke, people listened.

Here was a man who led from the front, who had the respect of all his Marines and who truly set the example. His portrait inspires me each day to be my best, do my best, respect others and do the right thing. In my mind, when I am in doubt, I ask, “How would General Davis have handled this?”

The list of heroes I suggested at the start of this article isn’t by any means all-inclusive and I don’t mean to leave any heroes out of the list. If any Week-Enders would like to jump in and recognize the hero in your life, here’s your chance.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.