This archived article was written by: Robert Morton
What is our fascination with heroes today, and what is a true American hero? Maybe it isn’t right to limit this to just American heroes, that wouldn’t be fair. We have heroes of different colors and from all walks of life; and they appear daily in countries from throughout the world. Heroes seem to know no boundaries and show acts that we might otherwise believe are impossible.
Heroes are an immense inspiration. We have this great love affair that we need to be able to look up to someone, to fashion our lives and aspire to something that is far greater than ourselves.
There usually is something built into us that makes us want to excel, step out of our comfort zone and do something good or accomplish great things. Heroes give us great examples. They spur us into action and inspire us, and tell us we can encourage all to do better. Heroes are our role models and accentuate our lives.
The presidents, in the name of Congress, have awarded more than 3,400 Medals of Honor to our nation’s bravest soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen since the decoration’s creation in 1861. However, there is an exhausting list of average, everyday people that go beyond what is expected, and show brotherly love, risking their lives with seemingly no thought for their own. These people truly are heroes. Here are a few stories of these every day heroes.
We all remember Pres. John F. Kennedy, but how many remember the story of Lt. John F. Kennedy when he served in World War II as a Naval Officer in command of a torpedo patrol boat that was rammed by enemy forces and sent him and his men into the dark waters on a moonless night?
It was August 21, 1943 while American PT boats laid in wait for Japanese destroyer ships racing through the passage in the Solomon Islands when Kennedy’s 90-foot PT 109 was torn in half, burst into flames and sank.
Thirteen crewmen were aboard his boat, one of which was severely injured and two died. The crew decided to swim to an island three miles away. Kennedy grabbed the most seriously injured man, clenching the strap from Patrick Henry McMahon’s life jacket between his teeth, and towing him, he swam to the island.
This island, later known as Kennedy Island, was barren so the crew decided to swim to another island with food. Later they made their way to another island that was inhabited by natives where Kennedy cut a message on a coconut “11 alive native knows posit & reef Nauru Island Kennedy” and handed it to a native and shouted “Rendova, Rendova!” the name of a nearby island with a PT base. The message was later received and all 11 men were rescued within a few days.
Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for his heroics for the rescue of his crewmen and received a purple heart for his own injuries recieved during the accident.
Here is a hero that more of us can relate to. With all today’s child crimes; my hat comes off to Kim Heimgartner, described in the August 2003 issue of “Readers Digest.”
While Kim Heimgartner was driving up a quiet residential street in a suburb of Clarkston, Wash., she noticed a man pulling a young girl, about 11 years-old by her backpack. The girl struggled but was overpowered and was shoved into the back seat of the man’s sedan and he sped off.
Heimgartner considered for a moment, thinking it could possibly be the girl’s father, but decided against it. Heimgartner, with her own 6-year old daughter in her Jeep, turned around and followed the-would-be kidnapper out of town.
She dialed 911 and described the possible abduction and their location as being near a landfill. Heimgartner’s instincts were right on the money. After a three-hour standoff with the police, the kidnapper surrendered. In his car was found a gun, knives, cameras, duct tape and 90 rounds of ammunition. He is now serving a 13-year, 8-month prison term.
Heimgartner is certainly a hero and the kind of woman that I want living in my neighborhood. She didn’t have to do anything, but she did. You can’t tell me she’s not a hero in the eyes of that little girl and her family. She certainly is mine for saving that sweet little girl.She went the extra mile, whether her life was in danger or not.
How many of us remember the air disaster of Florida’s Flight 90 that went down over the 14th Street Bridge into the Potomic River near Washington National Airport on January 13,
1982? Besides the helicopter rescue crew, there were two heroic men that risked their lives, one of which unselfishly gave his own so others might live.
It was a cold, snowy afternoon as Flight 90 sat in line on the runway waiting for its turn to take off. Already the ice was beginning to build up on its wings. By now the plane was an hour late in its departure while passengers tossed drinks and chatted nervously in their seats.
At 3:59 the plane shuddered as it took off and tried to gain altitude. It cleared two of the bridges on the Potomic River, but was losing altitude. The crew and passengers knew they were in trouble before it struck the 14th Street Bridge and it tore in half as it slammed through cars and railing then plunged into the cold, icy, dark waters.
Moments later only the tail section remained afloat, 79 people were aboard Flight 90, six were to survive the crash, but only five would live.
Huddled together in the cold icy waters the survivors waited for the rescue helicopter to arrive. Treading water, the survivors held on, some with broken arms and legs, two with collapsed lungs caused from the impact. “We’re all going to die,” someone said, Patricia Flech remembers Tirado screaming, “Where’s my baby? Where’s my baby?”
Aboard Flight 90 was Arland K. Williams Jr., who always sat in the tail section of the plane, “the safest part of the plane, he said.” On New Year’s Eve, Williams had told the woman he was planning to marry, “I’m not going to live very long.” Interesting in times like these, some are struck with premonitions.
Apparently a few nights prior to the accident, Williams telephoned a co-worker. He said: “It was one of the coldest nights of the century and the heat wasn’t working properly in his hotel room.” “It’s cold,” he told her, “so cold.” It was 4:20 before the helicopter arrived at the scene dropping the first lifeline delivering Bert Hamilton 100 yards to shore. It would be ten minutes before the helicopter would return, dropping the line to Williams. “He caught it, but instead of wrapping it around himself, he passed the line to flight attendant Kelly Duncan, the only crew member to survive. She took the line, wrapped it under her arms and held tight as she was carried to shore.”
With room for only one helicopter at a time between bridges, it returned with two lifelines, and again Williams caught it and handed it off to yet another survivor.
At this point one has to ask, “Did he even think of himself for a moment?” “Did he not realize his chances were growing slimmer by the moment?” Surely, he must have known that he would never survive, yet, he passed the line onto Joe Stiley, the most seriously injured passenger.
Tirado who also clung to Stiley and her life line, however exhausted, in pain and shock, soon lost her grip and plunged back into the cold icy waters of the Potomac. Rescuers again tossed her a life line but she was unable to grasp it to save her own life.
Upon seeing this and as Tirado was about to go under, an onlooker, Lenny Skutnik, plunged from the banks of the river into the freezing water and brought her safely to shore. What a heroic act that was of Skutnik. He didn’t have to do that; so why did he?
What made him risk his own skin for someone else?
My brother once told me: “don’t expect a pat on the back for doing what you were supposed to do, or for doing what you were paid to do. You get a pat on the back for going beyond what is expected of you.” Not much has ever been written about Lenny Skutnik. The emphasis has been on Williams and maybe rightly so, but let’s not forget Skutnik either when handing out pats on the back. He deserves a big one; just ask Priscilla Tirado.
By 4:30 p.m, Williams had been in the freezing water for 29 minutes, and his turn had finally come. “The chopper turned once more toward the sinking tail, its two-man crew eager to meet the man in the water, “to tell him they had never seen such selfless courage.”
They strained for signs of the hero of Flight 90. But the balding man was gone. Later, when telling his wife about it, Officer Gene Windsor wept. “He could have gone on the first trip,” pilot Usher said, “But he put everyone else ahead of himself. Everyone.” Williams name has been read into the Congressional Record as belonging to that unforgettable hero. Rep. Daniel B. Crane of Illinois has introduced a House resolution to recognize Williams as “a national hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow human beings.”
Here at the end, are a few words his mother Virginia Williams used to describe her son. “He was average,” she said. “Just average.” It’s people like these that are heroes. Those people who step out of the norm, and put their life second in consideration of others in a crisis. The author of one of the aforementioned articles ended with the question, “For isn’t it, in times of danger, the “average” man who saves us all?