Tag Archives: heroes

Highway memorials: What are their stories?

TULSA, Okla. — As my wife and I have trekked across the western half of the United States I am struck by something I have seen all along the way.

Many sections of interstate and intrastate highways have signs honoring individuals’ memories. They usually are police officers or state troopers or are military men and women.

We settled into this city for a couple of nights after traveling along a stretch of U.S. 169 that contained in the span of about five or six miles four signs identifying four individuals after whom the highway is named.

I see the signs and wonder: What are the stories behind these people? Why do states or local governments choose to honor them? What did they do to earn this eternal memorial?

Hey, I am just a curious American motorist who wants to know things such as this.

This country has turned an important corner over the past two or three decades in honoring the men and women who serve in our nation’s military, as well as those who suit up to protect and serve as members of our law enforcement network.

Why not erect historical plaques near the signs identifying these individuals that would explain to motorists who would be interested to stop and read them just why the highway carries an individual’s name?

Texas does a wonderful job of placing historical markers along its tens of thousands of miles of highway. It doesn’t explain to motorists why some stretches of highways carry signs honoring the memories of law enforcement and military personnel.

Our nation was built by heroes. I suspect all the individuals whose names are on those signs have committed acts of heroism that cost them their lives.

I would like to know their stories.

This is a seriously profound Thanksgiving story

One of these days — probably in the not-too-distant future — a little 1-year-old boy is going to become aware of a young man who saved his life. He will give heartfelt thanks to the effort of that young man and several other strangers who performed heroic deeds on Thanksgiving Eve, 2018.

Byron Campbell, 21 years of age, noticed smoke coming from an east Dallas apartment complex on Wednesday. (That’s him in the picture.) He rushed the building. He and several other individuals then began knocking on doors, informing residents of the fire, urging them to get out. First-floor residents dragged mattresses out so those on the upper floors could jump onto them while escaping the inferno.

A young woman was trapped on the third floor of the apartment building. She was holding her infant son. Byron stood on the ground urging her to let the baby go. He would catch him. The mom did it. The baby dropped and Byron caught him. He was safe.

Mom and Dad were able to escape the burning building. Indeed, everyone inside the structure escaped unharmed. The building was demolished. A Dallas firefighter suffered minor injuries.

This is the kind of story that makes one proud of humanity.

A group of young men risked their lives to save others. One of them had the presence of mind to steel himself for a harrowing escape orchestrated by a panicked woman who thought only of saving her helpless child. The woman placed her faith in the arms — and the heart — of a complete stranger.

I cannot possibly know how this young family will be thinking and feeling on this day we give thanks. I’ll start with the obvious: They will give thanks for the young man who saved their little boy’s life.

Soon, so will the little boy.


Heroes never seek recognition

I love writing about heroes. Indeed, I believe heroes and the deeds the perform are my favorite topics in writing this blog.

Frankly, I don’t know why that’s the case. It might be a product of my boyhood fascination with them. Perhaps that fascination never has left me.

I just posted a blog item a few minutes ago about the firefighters doing battle with the flames in California. They are heroes of the highest order. So are police officers. So are the medical personnel who respond first when disaster strikes.

Yes, I count the military men and women who answer the call to defend the nation as heroes.

Heroes all have a few things in common.

First and foremost is that they don’t consider themselves to be heroes. To a person, they shy away from the title of “hero.” They’re just doing their job. They’re in the “wrong place at the right time,” or maybe it’s the “right place at the wrong time.”

They don’t boast about their exploits, any more than rich people brag about their wealth, or smart people boast about their intelligence. Hmm … am I sticking my finger in anyone’s eye here? I suppose so . . . but I digress.

Heroes don’t look for opportunities to display their heroic tendencies. These opportunities are thrust upon them. A warrior who walks among his or her comrades on patrol becomes a hero when enemy soldiers open fire on them and that warrior responds to the horror that erupts all over them.

The firefighter who hears the bell at the fire house heads toward an unknown “enemy.” A police officer pulls over a traffic violator never knowing with any degree of certainty how that traffic stop will conclude, which is why I never use the term “routine traffic stop” when discussing these incidents. I did one time early in my career as a reporter and a local sheriff schooled me about a fundamental truth known to cops everywhere: “There’s no such thing as a ‘routine traffic stop.'”

Cops are heroes. So are firefighters. Same with paramedics. So are the military personnel who defend us against those who seek to harm us.

I love writing about them all. Doing so fills me with pride that I can honor them in this small way.

This is what heroes look like

Take a good look at this picture, which appeared on social media this afternoon.

It is a picture of firemen trying to grab a couple of winks. They’re dog tired. Exhausted. Whipped. They are covered in dirt and soot.

These are just a few of the heroes fighting those fires in California. They are among the men and women who get paid to do things some of us might have fantasized about when we were kids, but who found other ways to earn a living when we grew up.

These individuals chose to pursue careers dedicated to public service. They are performing that service at the highest levels imaginable as I write these words.

Other firefighters from around the country are rushing to their side to give them relief, to lend their own expertise, skill and courage in helping quell the flames that have killed dozens of victims, decimated thousands of acres of land, destroyed thousands of homes, ruined countless lives.

These heroes are trying to catch their breath before heading back into the hell on Earth that awaits them.

Godspeed to them all.

Today we honor the heroes

Heroes never seek to achieve their special status. Events are thrust upon them.

Seventeen years ago today, on a bright Tuesday morning, events occurred in this country that created heroes who were reacting instinctively. They sought to protect others’ lives against the harm that had arrived without warning.

Terrorists commandeered jetliners. They flew two of them into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, another one into the Pentagon, and a fourth jetliner crashed in Shanksville, Pa., after a titanic in-flight struggle between heroic passengers and the monsters who sought to crash that aircraft into the U.S. Capitol Building.

The date is now known simply as 9/11. You say “9/11” and everyone knows the date, what they were doing when they heard the horrific news.

I want to honor the heroes along with the victims today. The victims, nearly 3,000 of them, were simply going about their day. They were at work, they were in school, they were being cared for in day-care centers.

Terrorists acting in the name of some perversion of a great religion sought to strike at this nation. They awakened the fighting spirit of a proud people.

They produced heroes. They were the firefighters, police officers and medical personnel who ran into the burning buildings. They taught us the lessons of tried-and-true heroism.

Their legacy lives on to this day. It will live forever. Our nation should be grateful for all of eternity that they answered the call to their duty to serve the public.

Heroes don’t think of themselves that way

James Shaw Jr. is your typical hero.

That is, he doesn’t consider himself to be a hero, even though what he did was heroic in the extreme.

What was that? All he did was wrestle the gun out of the hand of a madman who had opened fire over the weekend at a Nashville, Tenn., Waffle House. The gunman killed four people before he fled from the restaurant.

Police caught the man suspected of committing the murders. He reportedly was hiding in the woods behind an apartment complex.

As for Shaw, well, he is a hero. He can tell us all he wants that “anyone would do” what he did. However, “anyone” wasn’t there at the time; Shaw was there and he likely saved the lives of many other restaurant patrons through his heroic action.

The gunman had opened fire, then stopped momentarily to reload his weapon. That’s when Shaw jumped him, realizing he had more than a moment of time to seek to disarm the shooter.

I think of the term “presence of mind” as I ponder what James Shaw did at the Waffle House. The young man has it in abundance.

James Shaw Jr. has earned his place among regular American heroes.

Heroes are answering the call again

Here we go yet again.

Fires explode across tens of thousands of acres, driven great distances by hurricane-force winds. Homes are incinerated. People’s lives are put in extreme jeopardy. Prized possessions vanish in the extreme heat.

Who answers the call to help? The firefighters, police, emergency medical personnel. That’s who.

It’s happening yet again in southern California. Those dreaded Santa Ana winds are devastating a region and imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.

It should go without saying, but these men and women are the truest heroes imaginable. They run into the firestorm. They fight these unspeakable forces from the air and on the ground. They expose themselves to heat, flame, smoke and utter exhaustion.

And then we have neighbors helping neighbors. They, too, deserve our prayers and good wishes as they all — every one of them — battle to save what they can against forces far stronger than anything they can ever hope to control.

This has been a tough year for so many Americans. The Texas Gulf Coast and Florida are still battling to recover from the savagery of hurricane wind and rain. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands residents cannot yet get full power and potable water restored after enduring their own misery from yet another storm.

The Santa Rosa fires up north from the inferno that is engulfing southern California at this moment brought their own measure of agony to beleaguered residents and the responders who rushed to their aid.

We should salute them all. We should pray for their safety. We should hope for as speedy a recovery as is humanly possible.

Thank you, heroes. All of you make the rest of us so proud.

Thank you, firefighters; you are our heroes

I suppose one could trace Americans’ love affair with emergency responders back to around the 9/11 attacks.

You remember the horror, the heartache — and the heroism!

I damn sure remember all of it.

The heroes were the firefighters and police officers who ran into burning skyscrapers in New York City, or into the Pentagon to rescue individuals who had been trapped by fire and smoke or perhaps paralyzed by the terror that been thrust upon them.

In that spirit I want to offer a word of gratitude and utmost respect and admiration to some emergency responders who at this very moment are fighting fires all along our sprawling landscape on the High Plains of Texas.

The wind is howling and is fanning flames across many acres of grassland. The firefighters are answering the call to battle the flames — and the relentless wind.

What’s more, many of those brave men and women are volunteers. They have day jobs. They do other things for pay, but they volunteer their time as firefighters because of their desire to serve the public.

Sure, we say it on occasion. We express our thanks and our appreciation to our friends and tell them how we stand in awe of those who risk their lives to protect us from nature’s wrath.

Do we tell the men and women directly how much we admire them for the work they do? No. Of course we don’t. I don’t.

I’m doing so here in this blog. I hope the word gets out. These individuals are heroes in every sense of an often-overused and misused word.

I also plan to tell the next firefighter I see at the grocery store stocking up on grub for his or her colleagues at the fire station that very thing.

About to declare war on misuse of word ‘hero’

I’ve just about had it up to here with those who keep using the “h-word” improperly.

I saw a tweet this afternoon about the death of pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes. It referred to him as a “blue-collar hero.”

Blue-collar hero? Yep. That’s what it said.

I’m on the verge of declaring war on the misuse of that word.

My war declaration, though, requires me to come up with an alternative word.

In the Dusty Rhodes case, what could we use to replace the term “hero” as it was used in that tweet? Blue-collar celebrity? Blue-collar icon? Blue-collar star?

The words “icon” and “star” perhaps overstate Rhodes’s status. But what the heck, this isn’t about Dusty Rhodes. It’s about the constant misuse of a term that should be used sparingly — and only to describe individuals deserving of the term.

A friend of mine noted that Caitlyn Jenner — the woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner — is being touted as a hero. I haven’t heard that term attached to Caitlyn Jenner, although it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Heroes are fighting men and women who put themselves in harm’s way in defense of the country; they are firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save people’s lives; they are police officers who risk their lives arresting violent criminals.

They aren’t athletes. Or entertainers. Or reality-TV celebrities.

Can we stop misusing that word? Please?

Another hero leaves this world

Edward Saylor was a hero. The real thing.

He was one of just four survivors of one of the most daring military acts of all time. He took part in the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April, 1942.

Lt. Col. Saylor was 94 when he died this week at his home in Sumner, Wash.


There just are three men left who served on that mission. It was bold, brash and fraught with peril.

The Japanese had attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor just four months earlier. President Roosevelt and the Pentagon brass were reeling as the Japanese were marching through Asia and the Pacific. They needed to do something — anything — to rattle the enemy. So they came up with a plan.

Why not load some U.S. Army Air Corps B-25 bombers aboard an aircraft carrier — the USS Hornet — strip them down to just the fuel and the bombs they need, teach the pilots how to launch a land-based bomber off a floating carrier deck and then have that squadron of planes drop its ordnance on targets in Japan? Lt. Col. James Doolittle would command the raid.

Edward Saylor served as a flight engineer-gunner aboard one of those planes.

He completed the mission at great risk, completed 28 more years in the Air Force before retiring and lived a long and happy life.

He received the Medal of Honor for his supreme bravery.

Sadly, he is just one more of a diminishing number of The Greatest Generation who went off to war to defeat tyranny. Of the 16 million or so men and women who served in World War II, fewer than 2 million are left. They are dying at a rapid rate daily.

Those of us who came up after them owe these men and women everything.

Rest in peace, Lt. Col. Saylor.

Thank you.