This past week I was traveling again, and had two people ask me about a ring I always wear. It looks like a common high school or college class ring. I guess you could say it’s my class ring from the school of hard knocks; it is my commissioning ring or plankowner’s ring. I was a member of the commissioning crew of the USS City of Corpus Christi SSN-705, a Los Angeles Class attack submarine.
I arrived at the ship when it was still a pre-commissioning unit, we couldn’t use the prefix USS yet (United States Ship). When I got to the ship the engine room was almost complete, but the rest of the ship was an empty hull. The ring has the ships seal on one side, plankowner on the other and USS City of Corpus Christi SSN-705 around the stone. I always have it with me and the stone even has a small chip bearing testament to the many years on my finger. My daughter knows that one day the ring will be her’s and sometimes puts it on her own finger, claiming that it already fits.
Normally no one notices the ring, or if they do they never ask about it. But, this week two people asked me about it; a friend and a small boy at the airport in Salt Lake City. Both wanted to know if it was a class ring, and I explained to both of them what it was. The small boy asked me about submarines, when I was in and things like that. After I told him he said I was a hero.
Also, this week I received a book about a hero from someone who is a hero to me. I bring this up because it got me thinking about heroes as I was headed home. I know what a hero is not, it bothers me when an athlete is called a hero just because he hits a home run or makes a touchdown. That does not make someone a hero, it makes them talented. Some people call anyone who has served in the military or emergency services (like police and firefighters) a hero. That does not make them a hero, brave maybe, but not a hero. Others think the person who climbs a high mountain, or performs some other dangerous action is a hero. Once again, brave but not a hero.
So what does make a hero? A person who takes action, specific action in a specific situation, which places them in potential danger, for no reason other than to benefit another person; that is a hero. Those people who ran into the twin towers on September 11, 2001, when everyone else was running out were heroes. The people who ran past people fleeing the pentagon to save people on September 11, 2001; they were heroes. The people who fought for control of United Flight 93 to prevent the plane from being used to kill hundreds or thousands of more people, they were heroes. Michael P. Murphy United States Navy S.E.A.L, he is a hero. The young man who threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of his buddies, yup hero. The person who ran into the path of an oncoming car to push a child out of the path of the car – yup hero.
You see volunteering for something that may or may not be dangerous does not make you a hero. It is the willingness to risk death or severe injury to protect another person – when you have nothing to gain and everything to lose – THAT makes a person a hero. I appreciated that little boy calling me a hero, but I am not a hero. I have never had to make the decision to let harm come to someone or to step into the situation and place myself in harm in their stead. I am not courageous or brave either. Just watch me when medical staff comes towards me with a needle and you will see just how cowardly I can be.
The woman who gave me that book, Katherine, she has place herself in a harmful situation for others, with no reward for herself. Michael Murphy, he died trying to save the lives of as many of his men as he could. These are the people who are heroes. Not the star athlete, the movie star, the adventurer, the dare-devil, and certainly not me. We use the word hero too freely, and we need to stop that. It detracts from those people who really are heroes and it cheapens the word hero.
So, the next time you start to use the word hero, honor those people who truly are heroes. Stop for a moment and think, “Is this person a real hero, or truly brave.”