|Soldiers of "The Old Guard" at the Tomb of the Unknowns, |
Arlington National Cemetery.
You have to wonder. What is it that makes a person want to have a job where they wake up every morning with the realization they might be called upon to do something heroic?
Most of us, me included, don't have jobs like that. Most of us like to think that, if confronted with a situation that calls for heroism, we would react ... well, heroically. The truth is, you never know until it happens. We hear about heroism by police officers, firefighters and soldiers all the time. We rarely hear about the people whose makeup did not bring them to accomplish something heroic.
I suspect they account for a large part of the population. And what is a hero, anyway? Is it a ballplayer who has the big hit to win the big game? Is it an actor, who plays a hero? Probably not, but each person chooses their own heroes.
This weekend, the one I'll be thinking of was a Private First Class in the Army. I was a Private First Class in the Army once, a long time ago. Millions of people have been. The one to which I'm referring, a young man named Ross McGinnis, was in a Humvee in Iraq in 2006, when an insurgent tossed a hand grenade into the vehicle that he and his comrades occupied. I think, unless something like that has happened to you, you can't say how you would react. You can hope you would react with valor, but for most of us, the reaction is one of self-preservation. Everything in our brains would be saying "GET OUT NOW!"
But there are a few, like Ross McGinnis, who react differently. Ross shouted "GRENADE!" Then he pinned his body against the device, shielding the blast from his fellow soldiers. They are alive today because of him. Ross is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
I doubt Ross McGinnis got up that morning expecting anything like that was going to happen. I also believe, if the grenade were to be tossed in the vehicle a hundred times, Ross would have done the same thing a hundred times. Not every soldier would have reacted the same way. That's one reason Ross was given the highest honor for valor this nation can bestow: The Medal of Honor.
One of the criteria for receiving the Medal of Honor, is that the person could not be criticized for not having done the deed. Nobody could have blamed Ross for trying to protect himself. Instead, he sacrificed himself to protect others. Heroes don't, I believe, think about the larger ideal of sacrifice for their country - for you and me. He died so his four buddies could live.
What he DID do for you and me was raise his right hand at a recruiting station, and swear to do his best to defend you and me against all enemies, and to uphold the greatest written document mankind has ever produced: The Constitution of the United States of America. On that day, you might say Ross took the first step in becoming a hero, but that's not exactly right. His parents and his sisters helped, too. So did his drill sergeants, his teachers, and his Little League coaches. In the end though, it all came down to that one split-second choice.
You can read President Bush's citation of the ceremony, at which Ross' parents were presented with his Medal of Honor, here: http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/mcginnis/citation/president.html This hero's story is not unique. But it is rare. Thank God for people like Ross McGinnis.
Happy Memorial Day.