AMERICAN HEROES by Cheryl Alexander
(American poet, Cheryl Alexander, about her ode to heroes: “This poem is dedicated to all the heroes in our lives. My husband is a soldier in the US Army. He’s been deployed all over the world from the US to Korea, to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is my hero. Heroes come from all walks, from both genders, from all religions and backgrounds. Everyone, I think is someone’s hero. Whose hero are you?”)
America has so many heroes.
Many we do not know their names,
They are policemen and firemen,
Soldiers and boxers.
Most, with no Hollywood fame.
Heroes come from all walks of life,
From every race, religion and creed.
Helping citizens in trouble,
Assisting those in desperate need.
I have many heroes
Throughout my entire life,
My parents, my siblings, my kids, even strangers
And a hero who’s made me his wife.
How fortunate we are who love our country,
How fortunate I am to be an American
Whom someone’s hero is me.
YOUR HERO MEMO is written from the understanding: we all start from zero but we can choose to be a hero. This directive is internal communication you send to yourself to clarify those actions and choices you find awe-inspiring in those you admire and which you plan to emulate.
I’m writing this during the week we Americans celebrate Memorial Day which was created to honor those who gave their lives to protect the values of our country. Such sacrifice, President Abraham Lincoln in his post-battle address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, called “the last full measure of devotion.”
The original aim of the Memorial Day observation is often obscured by the beginning-of-summer “freedom to party” and fireworks displays. However, those who have lost a friend or close family member who died in service to America, often remember them in vigorous toasts and tear-choked prayers this holiday. These selfless men and women who gave their all, every one of them through the history of our great country, are true, American heroes and heroines.
YOUR HERO MEMO could be inspired by reading the inspiring stories of other greats. Here are some of my American selections:
- DOUGLAS HEGDAHL—When he was only 20 years old, this American soldier became a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. (Note: I read about this hero in the book, “Better With Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging” by Dr. Alan D. Castel which I recommend be in every “S.U.N.S. Aging Joyfully Library.” The gerontologist/author illuminates a discussion of “memory retention” by recounting this example of American heroism.) “As he (Hegdahl) would be one of the only prisoners granted early release, he desperately wanted to learn the names of other prisoners in order to report this information to the United States. Hegdahl memorized the names, capture dates, methods of capture and personal information of about 256 other prisoners, to the tune of the nursery rhyme ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm.’ Even today, in his older age, he can still recall all of these names.”
- LYDIA BARRINGTON DARRAGH—This American Revolutionary War heroine never brandished a gun, nor became a sewing legend like her contemporary, Betsy Ross, but she risked her life to save many others and support the cause of freedom.
Darragh’s famous heroism occurred on December 2, 1777. The British were occupying Philadelphia. Her house was across from the headquarters of British General William Howe. British officers commandeered one of her rooms for a top level, secret conference. She eavesdropped on their meeting and learned of their military strategy to go after Washington’s army at Whitemarsh. On December 4, Darragh requested and received a pass to leave the city to go to Frankford Mill to buy flour.
Once outside the city, she made her way toward Washington’s army. Darragh handed off her information to her friend, Colonel Thomas Craig, then got her flour and returned home. That night, the British marched on Whitemarsh, but thanks to the bravery of Lydia Barrington Darragh, the ambush they planned was met by our Continental soldiers, armed and ready.
- SERGEANT ALVIN CULLUM YORK—was a Tennessee native and one of the most decorated US Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, gathering 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers and capturing 132 prisoners.
- BUFFALO CALF ROAD WOMAN—fought beside both her husband and her brother in the battles of Rosebud and of Little Big Horn in 1876 when U.S. Troops attacked Native Americans who refused to cede their territory. The young Cheyenne mother courageously charged straight into a path of bullets to pull her brother onto her horse and take him to safety. War journals record Buffalo Calf Road Woman knocked General Custer out of his saddle and many historians believe she killed him in his last assault on her tribe.
- GEORGE SMITH PATTON, JR.—was a triumphant general of the U.S. Army in World War II. Nicknamed, “Old Blood and Guts,” this soldiers’ hero might not have lasted long in our era when “smart phone” videotapes could capture his vulgarity-laced, rebel rousing, motivational speeches. Patton personified the American fighting spirit and determination to boldly lead others to victory.
- MAE CAROL JEMISON—born in Decatur, AL, became the first, African American woman in outer space. She was a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. This engineer/physician/astronaut orbited the earth for eight days, from September 12-20, 1992. Additionally, this multi-faceted, arts-and-science heroine, built a dance studio in her home and has choreographed several shows of modern jazz and African dance.
- CESAR CHAVEZ—is a Hispanic American hero who recruited and led armies of labor protests. Born to a Mexican American family in Arizona, Chavez’ world-view combined populist politics with the social teachings of his Catholic religious upbringing. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his compassionate and tireless work to assure fair labor practices for all people in the U.S.
- KURT CHEW-EEN LEE—born in San Francisco, CA, became Lt. Lee, the first Asian-American officer of the United States Marines. On the night of November 2, 1950, Lee saved thousands of fellow patriots from an enemy attack during the Korean War. He bravely scouted the enemy on a one-man reconnaissance mission and successfully baffled them because of his ability to speak Mandarin Chinese. Kurt Chew-Een Lee and his younger brothers, Chew-Mon Lee and Chew-Fan Lee all earned U.S. bravery medals in the Korean War.
YOUR HERO MEMO written to yourself, should be unique to the values you find most inspiring in heroes. If American ingenuity and innovation is something that deeply aligns with your abilities and aspirations, your hero models might be inventors like Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver. If your heroes are icons of compassion, you may select hero models like Clara Barton and Jonas Salk. Search online for lists of American heroes and you’ll find many awe-creating heroes and heroines like: George Washington, Chief Seattle, Helen Keeller, the Tuskegee Airmen, Ernie Pyle, Walt Disney, Colonel John Glenn, Harriet Tubman, Betty Ford, Sully Sullenberger, John Philip Sousa, Jim Thorpe, the Apollo 13 astronauts, Andrew Carnegie, Jerry Lewis, Teddy Roosevelt, Jesse Owens, Ronald Reagan and one who is ideal to be your own personal model.
YOUR HERO MEMO doesn’t have to be beautifully phrased nor “letter perfect.” You’re writing it from you to you; try not to be too “judgy.” The memorandum is a work-in-progress, a living document which you may alter from time-to-time as your priorities change and your vision for your life coalesces with greater clarity. Enfold “The S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring and Spellbinding) Joyous Aging System” elements as you structure YOUR HERO MEMO.
You want your “inner hero” to be positive-thinking and positive-doing: SMILE-MAKING. Many heroic lives are led by people with a particular and individual passion, but every hero and heroine values loyalty and UNITING deeply with others for a full life. Heroines and heroes are defined by their selfless acts serving others, NEIGHBORING. For YOUR HERO MEMO to be quintessentially about what “makes you tick,” your focus must be intense, determined, persevering and captivatingly SPELLBINDING for you.
ODES TO HEROES FROM OTHERS:
“Figure out what you need to do to be the heroine of your own story.”—Ava DuVernay
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”—Joseph Campbell
“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that come with freedom.”—Bob Dylan
“Nothing is given to man on earth–struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible—the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”—Andrew Bernstein
“Among the qualities a hero should have, I would include determination, loyalty, courage, perseverance, patience, focus, intrepidity and selflessness.”—Ricky Martin
“Be your own hero, it’s cheaper than a movie ticket.”—Douglas Horton
“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for others to see by.”—Felix Adler
SOME HEROIC LAFFS:
“Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, is a backwards politician. Most of them act like heroes to get elected and then comedians in office.”
“If I could be any superhero, I’d be Aluminum Man. That way I could foil the bad guys.”
“Her: You can’t spell ‘hero’ without ‘her.’ Him: You can’t spell ‘her’ without ‘he.’”
“I say the greatest hero in science fiction is ‘Dr. Who,’ but my editor says it’s ‘Dr. Whom.’”
JOY-GIVING HEROES & HEROINES CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK:
May 28—Hunter “Patch” Adams
May 29—Bob Hope
May 30—Benny Goodman
May 31—Clint Eastwood
June 1—Marilyn Monroe
June 2—Awkwafina (Nora Lum)
June 3—Josephine Baker
AMERICAN HERO WHOLE WHEAT SANDWICH—KENTUCKY
(Source: allrecipes.com—must be done a day ahead which makes for easy holiday entertaining)
Each week, JOY & GERONTOLOGY shares a recipe saluting a healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. Longevity Cookbook” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many gerontologists believe holds the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life.
½ cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
3 Tablespoons tarragon vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup black olives, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 loaf (1 pound) round, crusty whole wheat bread
½ pound sliced deli turkey meat
½ pound sliced ham
½ pound sliced salami
½ pound sliced mozzarella cheese
6 leaves lettuce
1 tomato, sliced
Step 1—In a medium bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and garlic. Season with parsley, oregano and pepper. Stir in olives and mushrooms. Set aside.
Step 2—Cut off the top half of the bread. Scoop out the inside and leave a ½” outside wall. Spoon 2/3 olive mixture into the bottom. Layer with turkey, ham, salami, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Pour remaining olive mixture on top and replace the top half of bread. Wrap securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
1,070 JOY-GIVING THINGS FROM MY FIRST 70 YEARS (continued):
476. “Heroes” by David Bowie.
477. Marion Morrison who became American film hero, John Wayne.
478. Matilda Wormwood, the heroine of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.”
479. Atticus Finch, American fictional hero.
480. Boo Radley, American fictional hero.
481. My friend’s American Pygmy goat, Penelope.
482. The squeal of cable cars in Downtown Birmingham.
483. Memories of freaking out on Santa’s lap at a department store.
484. Celie, the heroine of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.”
485. Seeking and hiring top advertising illustrators.
486. “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” sung by Waylon Jennings.
487. Creating television advertising in Los Angeles.
488. Eating the sugar cube of polio vaccine.
489. Getting the COVID vaccine and feeling less vulnerable.
490. Going to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and the Orange Bowl in Miami.
491. Relishing slawdogs at the Cullman Bowling Center for 60 years.
492. Jo March, the writer/heroine of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”
493. Personal stationery printed by Horchow.
494. Larry and his brother, Darryl, and his other brother, Darryl.
495. The giant, American flag hanging from our balcony.
496. Kris Kristofferson, Rhodes Scholar and helicopter captain in the U.S. Army.
497. Making party hats on New Year’s Eve.
498. Vitamix blenders.
499. Snapping green beans with Granny Edner.
500. Aunt Cille’s tea so sweet you could stand a spoon up in it.
501. “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler.
HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY and HEROIC WEEK!