Saturday, June 4, 2011

What A Hero Looks Like

"Hero" is among the most overused terms in sports.  When a player performs well under pressure and leads his/her team to victory, writers and commentators speak of that player's "heroics".  Is it hyperbole?  Sure.  Is it essentially harmless as long as we the viewers and listeners keep it in context?  Of course.

As we stand where we stand this morning, less than a week removed from Memorial Day, forty-eight hours away from the 67th Anniversary of D-Day, slightly more than one week away from Flag Day and on the 27th anniversary of the release of the album that turned Freehold's favorite son into a Top-10, mainstream pop music star and a political symbol (whether he wanted to be or not), it is worth placing heroism into context.  It is easy to do.  Really.

A week ago Sunday night CBS ran again the episode of 60 Minutes that included (among other items) Lara Logan's profile of Staff Sgt. Sal GiuntaPresident Obama awarded Staff Sgt. Giunta the Medal of Honor in November.  At the time he was the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.  If you do not know who he is or what he did, I shall leave you to learn of him and his actions through the piece.  Kudos to you if you are able to watch and listen without a lump or ten forming in your throat.  I could not.  Neither could Margaret and she is considerably tougher than I am.

For what it is worth, it seemed to this civilian that he received his Medal of Honor for actions taken in battle in Afghanistan that were nothing short of extraordinary. Yet, Staff Sgt. Giunta's reaction to being selected for the honor struck me as similar to all I have ever read about Raritan Borough's native son John Basilone's reaction to being awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II.  The portion of the piece in which Staff Sgt. Giunta describes himself as being (at best), "a mediocre soldier" is worth watching all by itself.  Especially when you realize that in the world of faux apologies and artificial humility, this young man is the real deal.  He says what he means and he means what he says. 

One look at Staff Sgt. Giunta reminded me what a hero looks like.   The news this past week informed us that next month we shall meet yet another sterling example. On July 12th Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry shall be awarded the Medal of Honor.  He too is being honored for actions taken in battle in Afghanistan.  Actions that saved the lives of at least two of his brothers in arms while costing him his right hand.  Again, actions that stretch the definition of the word "extraordinary" to - and perhaps beyond - its accepted limits.  I suspect that the Einstein Estate will complain not even a little bit about this example of "relativity" in action.

It is easy - too easy sometimes in fact - to be careless with language.  Trust me, it is a practice I engage in daily.  Athletes who perform at the top of their profession when the game is in doubt are what they are:  pressure performers.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  With all due respect to them - and to those of us who cheer for them whether from the bleacher, the bar stool or the couch in our den - they are not heroes.  Look again for yourself.  Tell me if you do not see what I mean.

There goes my hero.  Watch him as he goes.


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