Heroes for the New Year

Posted: Dec 30, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For most of us, the end of one year and the beginning of another is a time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future. But for much of the media, the time when we hang up a new calendar has become a time to compile lists: "Person of the Year," "Biggest Story of the Year," "Best Movie of the Year," etc. This is done so we can put into perspective our own life experiences, measure our daily victories and defeats against that which the masters of the media deem important, and resolve to do better in the year ahead. If any of these enumerations actually had the effect of making us more inspired to do that which we should, or less inclined to do that which we should not, there might be some merit in these end-of-year "wrap up" stories. Unfortunately, there is precious little in most of them to encourage, exhort or admonish -- in large part because too many of the "heroes" of this age are less than heroic. My tattered old Webster's defines "hero" as a "legendary figure ... endowed with great strength and ability .. an illustrious warrior ... a person possessing great courage." How many of those we call "heroes" today actually fit the definition? No doubt there were heroes aplenty on Sept.11: aboard United Airlines Flight 93 as it crashed into a field in Pennsylvania instead of a building in Washington, D.C., and in the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon, where gallant men had their lives taken from them while they struggled to save the lives of others. They legitimately deserve the title "Heroes." And, because America's opinion shapers, editors and pundits don't know better, genuine heroes must join ranks with Hollywood performers ("a truly heroic scene"), NFL football players ("a heroic second effort"), and politicians ("a courageous stand and heroic vote"). Bad enough that the media have redefined and cheapened the meaning of the word "hero," but they have also gone out of their way to ignore others who are far more deserving of the mantle. The war in Afghanistan has afforded the American people the opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of America's heroes since Operation Enduring Freedom began on Oct. 7. Because they are recent enough, the deaths of CIA Clandestine Service Officer Mike Spaan at Mazar-e Sharif and the three Special Forces Sergeants -- Jefferson D. Davis, Daniel H. Petithory and Brian C. Prosser -- all killed near Kandahar by an errant U.S. bomb are still in the media memory bank. But do those who "report the news" remember any of the heroes from the first six months of this rather remarkable year? In case they don't, here are some suggested additions to their "End of Year" list: On Feb. 12, two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters crashed at the Army's Kahuku Military Training Area on Oahu, as 3,500 soldiers of the Army's 25th Infantry Division were conducting an exercise called Lightning Thrust Warrior. Six soldiers were killed and 11 others were injured. They were heroes. On March 3, three members of the Florida National Guard and 18 members of the 203rd Red Horse Engineering Flight from Virginia Beach were killed when the Army C-23 Sherpa in which they were flying crashed in Georgia. They were heroes, too, but they won't be mentioned. Five American servicemen were killed and three others were seriously injured on March 12 in Kuwait at the Al Udairi Range during a live-fire training accident when a U.S. Navy FA-18 dropped a bomb too close to an observation post. The press won't call them heroes because it was "just an accident." When a Red Chinese F-8 fighter slammed into Lieutenant Shane Osborne's EP-3 on April 1, he saved his crew of 24 but ended up being held by the communist government in Beijing for 11 days. He came home to a well-deserved heroes welcome, but the media delighted in putting on Armchair Admirals to criticize him for not "ditching his plane into the sea." In Vietnam, on April 7, seven members of the U.S. military (three Army, three Air Force, one Navy) were searching for the remains of American servicemen still unaccounted for during the Vietnam War when their helicopter crashed, killing them all. They won't be called heroes because Vietnam, said the media, was a "Bad War." On June 12 this year, Air Force First Lt. Randolph Murff of the 35th Fighter Squadron was piloting his F-16 out of Kunsan Air Base in Korea on a nighttime training mission when his aircraft crashed and killed him. He might have qualified as a hero to the press, but it was "just a training accident." It's not likely that many, if any, of the soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines who died this year defending our country will make the media's many "End of Year Lists." They ought to be on yours -- in prayers for their families -- and in thanksgiving that we have more like them to protect this land in the year ahead. Happy New Year.