To The Herald-Whig:
At the end of "Band of Brothers," Maj. Richard Winters cited a letter he received from a former comrade, who was asked by his grandson if he was a hero in the war. The former warrior replied that he was not a hero, but that he served in the company of heroes.
Everywhere I look today I hear the word hero being applied to anybody who wears a uniform. We speak of the victims of 9/11 as heroes, whether it be firefighters, law enforcement officers or the regular folks working in the towers of the World Trade Center.
We have watered down the word until it no longer has any meaning. And the true heroes get lost in the hyperbole.
Like my comrades and I who served in Vietnam, the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan must summon the courage to overcome their fear in carrying out their mission. But that is what is expected of every American fighting man and woman. And we honor them for that. But the real heroes are the ones who go above and beyond what is expected of them.
The firefighters and police who responded to the World Trade Center atrocity also had to overcome their fears in carrying out their mission, as was expected of them. Certainly there were real heroes among them, who went above and beyond what was expected of them, some whose names and deeds will never be known.
The men and women in the towers were going about the day's business when they were suddenly and viciously attacked. More than 3,000 died in that attack. Does not calling them heroes dishonor them? To the contrary, as had been said by the poets, every person's death diminishes us all. These innocent victims will never be forgotten by their families or their country.
Out of the millions who have served and continue to serve their country since the inception of the Medal of Honor in 1861, only 3,470 men -- including seven in Iraq/Afghanistan -- and, to our nation's shame, only one woman, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon, have been awarded the highest honor this nation can bestow for valor in battle.
It is here, and among those few extraordinarily courageous men and women who have demonstrated such valor while serving and protecting their friends and neighbors, that the word hero should be forever enshrined.