A salute to heroes

August 05, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother ..."

— William Shakespeare, Henry V


Did Henry V, King of England, ever say those words? Probably not. But what a wonderful lament and motivational speech for the English and Welsh longbow archers who became national heroes by virtually annihilating the "flower of France" at the battle of Agincourt on Saint Crispin's Day in 1415.

Even the phrase "band of brothers" has recently become synonymous with the men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and their heroic efforts during World War II.

How about "band of sisters," referring to the U.S. women's soccer team that heroically came from behind to beat Brazil only to lose heroically to Japan. Did you see any of the post-game interviews? The U.S. women showed poise, class, humility and did not blame one another — all characteristics of heroes. Heroism knows no gender.

The 369th Infantry Regiment was the first all-black regiment sent to fight in Europe during World War I. So tenacious and valiant were these soldiers; they never had a unit member captured nor did they lose any ground during 191 days of continuous fighting. The Germans reverently referred to the 369th as "Hellfighters" — "Harlem Hellfighters." The 369th was assigned to and fought with the French army, and for its actions, each member of the regiment was awarded the "Croix de Guerre" by the French government. Heroism knows no race.

Audie Murphy, barely 19 years old, became the "most decorated soldier" of all time during World War II, and Tom Watson, at 60 (long past the age where golfers compete with the 30-something crowd) nearly won a sixth British Open championship two years ago. Heroism has no age limits.

Consider this description of James W.C. Pennington: "this fugitive slave/abolitionist from Washington County became an internationally recognized leader of the antebellum abolitionist movement and his work helped lay the foundation for the contemporary civil rights movement." Author Christopher Webber recounts this slave-to-free man story in his book "American to the Backbone: The Life of James W.C. Pennington." Heroism knows no station in life and is never constrained or conditioned by geography.

There are heroes everywhere and in every time. There are heroes among us or who have been among us yesterday and today.

People like James Warner, Don and Jone Bowman, Coach Jim Brown, the late Mike Callas, Spence Perry, Wayne Alter, Betty Morgan, John League, Don Munson, Mary Baykan, Joe Tischer, Emily Seidel, the late Kevin Lumm, the late Nick Adenhart, Monty Montgomery, Nikki Houser, the late J. Will Taylor, Jim Latimer and more.

I am remiss in not naming all of my heroes — people who through their lives, or even in death, have painted a picture of heroism in my eyes. This column is short and my list is long.

Heroes inspire, motivate, build a sense of awe within us, and are role models and become the people we look up to. Most people will list their parents, their spouse, a teacher, a coach or a spiritual leader among their personal heroes. My entire list, and it is exhaustive, includes each of those people. Most people's list of heroes will include names of people known only to the person who makes the list. My short list, above, has several names that most readers will not recognize; yet, in my eyes, they are no less heroic.

Some will read my short list and disagree with some of the names, and that is everyone's right. Heroism to me is personal as well as imperfect.  Personal in that one who inspires or motivates me might be disagreeable to you and to others; and imperfect, because once a hero is not indicative of always a hero.

Recall Ira Hayes, one of the brave Americans who raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi signifying victory in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. A heroic moment captured for all time in a photograph later to become the inspiration for the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Monument) at Arlington National Cemetery. Hayes, a national hero died an alcoholic, drowned in a mud puddle. His efforts, along with thousands of others, on Iwo Jima were an inspiration for future Americans going into harm's way. His death, though not heroic, was no less a tragedy for all who know the story.

Who are your heroes? On hot summer days, over a cool glass of iced tea, it is good to ponder their names and let them inspire you again.

Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

The Herald-Mail Articles