by Andrea Puckett
Tonight, I learned the definition of what a hero is. Since I was a child I have always known the technical definition of a hero as being a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life; however, I have heard the term used so freely by the government in the times of war as either a propaganda technique or as a way to consul grieving family members that somehow it lost its meaning.
The last time that I visited my parents a family friend was killed fighting in Iraq. I really didn’t know him extremely well but the idea of someone that I knew dying really hit home the idea of war. I felt sorry for his family but was angered by the way that the news portrayed his death. He was one of two men killed in his troop on the same day; however their deaths were portrayed differently on the local news broadcast.
I come from a small southern town where wealth meant status and people often cater to those who they perceive have power. My family friend came from a wealthy family and the other guy who died was a man from a non-notable family. The news said that my family friend was a hero and spent fifteen minutes discussing the details of his death and showed photos of a military funeral and focused on the idea that he was a hero who had died for his country. The segment for the other guy who died was approximately three minutes long and they did not say that he was a hero but that he was a solider and a father of three and showed images of his son playing on the headstones. My first thought was that the television station focused on one being a hero and the other a father because of the status that each of their families had in the community. I carried this thought with me several weeks.
In these times of war, the line of being a solider and being a hero can often be blurred until you learn and listen to the story behind the words. Tonight, my mother called me and informed me why they called our family friend a hero. Our friend’s parents were told that he was killed from a shot to the head. However, when he arrived back in the United States, there was no wound to the head. His parents thought that it was a noble thing to fight for your country but they didn’t know why people were calling him a hero. They found out that he had died not from a wound to the head but he died by jumping on a grenade to save his troop.
Knowing that he died to save others strangely comforted his friends and family because he went to war on a mission to give back to others. Our family friend, was a man who held degrees from notable institutions and had the respect of his friends and family, but what meant most to him was respecting himself and knowing that he had made a difference beyond the community walls that would open doors for others internationally.
On the battlefield, political boundary lines and biases are often forgotten and personal respect emerges. Last week, President Bush recognized him for being a hero because he gave his life for his country. Bush acknowledged that our family friend hated going to war, and that our friend didn’t vote for Bush or believe in his politics but that he did fight for freedom and died fighting for his country and protecting his men.
Two weeks after his death, his family received the last letter that he sent home. The words in it were strangely prophetic that if he must die that it should be helping others. They found a poem in pocket titled “Don’t Quit.” He carried it with him in his pocket and it was torn and faded but it was said that he read it every day to remind him of the joy of every failure and that out of every struggle and loss springs hope and opportunity.
There are many different points of view towards the war in Iraq. However, no matter your political philosophy or personal opinion towards the war when someone you know dies it makes you realize how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away. Securing precious resources and political allegiances take a backseat to understanding one man’s fight for what he believes in.
When I reflect on war and my friends, I really hate to see the kids that I went to Military Balls with at Virginia Tech or that I watched play football or was in cheerleading with in high school die. However, I admire them all that are fighting for a belief in their country and posses a bond with people that I cannot imagine.
I do not know the people that he saved or the circumstance that our family friend found himself in when he saved his men. However, I do understand that somewhere tonight there are families that are grateful for our family friend and I know that above all he will always live through the people that he saved. Having a belief that someone did not die in vain can inspire hope in those that must live on.
Tonight, I learned that being a hero cannot be explained in words but it must be internalized and given a story to come alive. Learning the definition of what a hero is comes at a heavy price. The price is measured in tears and struggle. Our family friend who died told his family that he went to war because he realized that he had been blessed with so many opportunities in life and wanted to give back to others what he had been given. He gave the ultimate gift: LIFE