By John ‘Butch’ Dale
Most youngsters can list people who they consider as their “heroes:” actors, singers, sports stars, and other celebrities along with their parents and grandparents, people they look up to and admire.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, I had several heroes: major league baseball players like Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, TV characters such as Wyatt Earp, the Lone Ranger, and Superman. Of course, I loved Elvis and I had a crush on Liz Taylor.
Then in the 1960s, I admired President Kennedy, and I thought the Beatles were the greatest. I watched astronaut Neil Armstrong land on the moon, and later saw him in person at Purdue. And of course, my Dad and Mom, along with my grandparents, topped the list.
But through the years I came to realize that there is a difference between a real hero and a person who is just a celebrity, a make-believe character, or an idol. So what is a true hero?
In my opinion a true hero is someone who knowingly and voluntarily does something good for the betterment of society or their family, who does not seek praise or financial rewards for their achievements, who makes a positive impact and contributes something beneficial to our everyday lives, who rises up in times of need or under difficult circumstances or in dangerous situations and embodies the highest level of human behavior.
A rock singer is not a hero. A sports star is not a hero. Actors and actresses are not heroes. Politicians are not heroes. Wealthy businessmen are not heroes. These are people you might admire, but they should not automatically be considered as heroes.
Many people consider people in uniform, like soldiers, firefighters and police officers, to be heroes. In a way they are because these are noble and dangerous professions, but it takes more than a uniform or a title to be a real hero. What a person does and how they act after they put on the uniform is what counts. The 403 firemen and police officers who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, trying to save lives by rushing into the burning buildings, were certainly real heroes.
Many heroes are just everyday people in our lives who make a difference, the teacher who voluntarily stays after school to help a student, the doctor who performs his services for free to a needy family, the businessman who sells his product at cost, or even gives it away for free to those in need, the mother who gives up her high-paying job to raise her children, the father who turns down his “dream job” located in a large city, so that his kids can stay in the smalltown community that they love, the brave soldier who risks his life to save a fellow soldier, a homeless person who struggles to have enough to eat, but shares what he has with a starving dog, parents who raise their handicapped child without complaining, the youngster who helps his elderly neighbor and requests no compensation, the Sunday school teachers who devote hours and hours of their free time to guide children on the straight and narrow, the police officer or fireman who endangers his life to prevent a tragedy.
These people are true heroes. And there are many more examples who you can name who made a positive difference in your life or the lives of others.
My parents were not famous. They were not wealthy. They won no awards. They received no honors, no trophies, no commendations. But they were heroes to me because they cared about me and my siblings. They sacrificed their time and their ambitions to raise us and provide for us.
I consider many of my former teachers to be heroes because they loved their jobs and they truly cared about me as an individual.
Many of the police officers who I worked with through the years, including two of my boys, Neil and Brett, who also serve the public as police officers, are my heroes.
My son Clark, who joined the army after 9/11 and fought in Iraq, many times under enemy fire, is my hero.
My daughter Shelle, a dedicated teacher who truly cares about her students, is my hero. And my wife Connie, who is a great wife, mother, and grandmother, and has served the public as a teacher’s aide and jail matron, is my hero.
True heroes are the kind of people who help all of us realize that money, big houses, high-paying jobs, awards, praise, acclaim, and political power. are not the most important things in life. And a true hero can show everyone that what is important is what is inside each individual and that anyone can become a true hero, too.