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Raising The 'Hero Bar'

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

We have cheapened the value of the word, “Hero.”

A lot of people are brave. Teachers, Nurses, local service volunteers, Priests, Rabbis, and Ministers. We’ve applied the word “hero” to most, if not all of them.


Firefighters and police officers who routinely run into grave danger qualify as heroes. Service members who have saved the lives of their mates – often at the cost of their own, do, too.

But, they have chosen to be themselves into situations where the need for heroism is, if not expected, is at least recognized as a real possibility.

Merriam Webster suggests these synonyms:

God, icon, beau ideal, classic, exemplar, ideal, model, nonpareil, paragon.

It also allows for such synonyms for “Hero” as:

Cuban sandwich, grinder, hoagie, Italian sandwich, po’boy, sub, torpedo.

But those are not the kind of heroes we’re discussing.

Then we come to those three kids from a suburb of Sacramento, California: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler. They turned out to be heroes, but they were on vacation, not on duty.

I know they’re all men in their early 20s but when you’re my age, anyone whose age doesn’t start with at least a 5 is a kid.

Three kids who have known each other since middle school and decided to spend a couple of weeks touring around Europe while two of them were still assigned there. Three kids who bought first class tickets on the high speed train that runs from Brussels to Paris.

They got on the wrong car and decided at some point that they had bought first class seats so they moved to the first class car.


That was the reason these three kids were in the right place at the right time to (with the help of a Brit named Chris Norman) overwhelm a heavily armed terrorist whose intention, it seems, was to use as many of the 200+ rounds of ammunition for his AK-47 as possible to kill as many of the 500 or so passengers as possible.

I know this seems unkind, but once again the Brits and the Americans had to swoop in to save the French. Only difference is: For the first time, the Americans got there first.

The whole thing reads like a badly written script for a low-budget thriller. Not only are two of the three in the military, not only did they change seats to be in the car through which the terrorist was running, but Airman 1st Class Stone has some basic medic training and, with his thumb literally hanging off his hand from having been cut by the terrorist, he had the presence of mind to attend to another passenger who had been cut and was bleeding from a severe neck wound.

One report held that Stone “pushed his finger into the wound to stop the bleeding,” and thus saved the passenger’s life.

No producer would green light a movie that required that preposterous series of events to be filmed.

We’ve known other heroes. Here in January 1982, a government printing office worker named Lenny Skutnik dove into a freezing Potomac River to save the life of a flight attendant from the Air Florida flight that crashed into the 14th Bridge.


In that same tragedy, Arland D. Williams, a passenger on the flight who gave his life helping to save the other five survivors.

We would all like to believe we would have, at least joined the fray once it had begun. Maybe some of us believe we would have helped initiate the action, but that’s a stretch even for someone with a superhero complex like me.

Anthony Sadler is Black. He and his two White friends were on this trip. No one has made a big deal about that. No one has to. No one should.

Heroism knows no race. No religion. No … anything. It comes in all sizes, shapes, colors, and genders.

Three kids on a trip. As Anthony Sadler said:

“I’m just a college student, it’s my last year in college. I came to see my friends on my first trip in Europe and we stopped a terrorist, it’s kind of crazy.”

Here’s what I think about what happened on that train on Friday.

Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler have raised the bar for qualifying for the title of “Hero.”

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