Paul Greenberg
The cynics say there are no more heroes, but a brief glance at the obituaries is enough to refute any such claim. For example:

Vincent Owens, 21, of Fort Smith, Ark. promoted posthumously to sergeant after he died of wounds suffered when his unit came under fire March 1, 2010, at Yosuf Khel, Afghanistan,. He'd already been nicknamed Sergeant Major by his men -- in honor of his drive and determination. His men didn't realize how badly he'd been wounded. He didn't let them know. First he had to get them and their truck out of the line of fire. Later there would be time to die.

Back home in Fort Smith -- and earlier in Spiro, Oklahoma, just across the state line -- Vincent Owens could have been taken for just another good old boy who liked to work with his hands. In Afghanistan, he'd even tried souping up his Army truck. He had a thing for motorcycles. His blue Suzuki GSRX 1000, still waiting for him, was parked in the church foyer for his funeral service in Spiro, his helmet and a bouquet of flowers in the seat. The funeral procession from the church in Spiro to the Fort Smith National Cemetery included more than a hundred of his fellow bikers.

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Still a newlywed, he'd married just this January while on leave after one tour of duty in Iraq. He'd shipped out to Afghanistan in February.

Adam Lee Brown, 36, originally of Hot Springs, Ark., was a veteran Navy SEAL, as his decorations, including a Bronze Star with a combat V for valor, attested. He, too, would die of wounds received in Afghanistan after having served in Iraq. He'd enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Lake Hamilton High in Pearcy, Ark., and attending Arkansas Tech in Russellville, where he played football. He is survived by his wife, Kelley, their two children, his parents and a grateful nation.

At the other end of life's spectrum, Modesto Cartagena, 87, of Guayama, Puerto Rico, U.S.A., has died more than half a century after his outfit landed at Pusan, Korea. Allied forces would be reduced to a toehold, 80 by 50 miles, after North Korean forces attacked across the 38th Parallel.

Over the next three years, Army Sgt. Cartagena would participate in nine major battles, including one to protect the escape route for the Marines' famous retreat ("an advance in a different direction") from the Chosin Reservoir.

The sergeant would leave Korea with a Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism" during a battle for a key hill during which his rifle was shot away from him. That didn't prevent him from using grenades to wipe out five of the enemy's gun emplacements.

Over the course of a military career that would include action in the European theater during the Second World War as well as the Korean Conflict, he would also earn Silver and Bronze Stars.

The general who was first given command of the 65th Infantry Regiment in Korea had hesitated to accept it. He'd heard it was just a "rum and Coca-Cola outfit" from Puerto Rico. He soon learned better thanks to men like Sgt. Cartagena. Some 3,800 members of the 65th would be killed or wounded in Korea. Soon enough the general would conclude that the men in his command were "the best damn soldiers in that war." Modesto Cartagena was one of the best of the best.

Andrée Peel, 105, has died in the English village of Long Ashton outside Bristol, but when France fell in the crushing spring of 1940, she was Andrée Virot, and running a beauty salon in Brest. France had been conquered, but not Mlle. Virot. She started her own war by circulating an underground newspaper--journalism always was a subversive trade--and soon graduated to the Resistance. As Agent Rose, she kept track of German shipping in the harbor and troop movements in Brittany. Soon she was escorting downed Allied airmen to safety, 102 of them before she was caught.

The mademoiselle would be arrested shortly after D-Day, the Sixth of June, 1944, with the usual, predictable consequences: imprisonment, torture, deportation to a concentration camp. First Ravensbruck, then Buchenwald, where she was due to be shot just before the Americans arrived like the U.S. Cavalry just in the nick of time in April of 1945.

Andrée Virot would live to make good on a wartime vow: to offer thanks for her survival at Sacre-Coeur in Montmarte. It was in Paris that she would meet her English husband. Mr. Peel lived till 2003, and she celebrated her 105th birthday February 3, wearing all 11 of her decorations from various countries, including the Medal of Freedom from the United States, and the King's Commendation for Brave Conduct from Great Britain. It was quite a birthday party. She sang the Marseillaise and, asked for a comment by the press, replied: "You don't know what freedom is if you have never lost it."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.