Thursday, July 20, 2017

- On Being Heroic

Yesterday while chatting before a meeting, someone asked me what I thought was the coolest single line ever, and I suggested that it belonged to Brigadier General Anthony Mcauliffe the commander of the 101st Airborne during the battle of the bulge. When the Germans had his troops surrounded in the Belgian City of Bastogne and demanded his surrender, he replied with a single word: “Nuts”.

(You may have heard this story before. It’s mentioned in the HBO series ‘Band of Brothers’ and the Classic movie ‘Patton’.)

That story got me, at 4:45 this morning, watching the Documentary for the 506th E company that was featured in the HBO series, and I wanted to call your attention to this clip from the documentary. Speaking is Major Richard Winters, commander of the E company on D-Day. You want to watch to about the 29:40 mark:

If you’ve seen the HBO series you already know that these guys were real heroes. And for most of us, there aren’t a lot of opportunities in our day-to-day lives for real heroism. That’s probably just as well. But there are a lot of opportunities for most of us to show that kind of loyalty and commitment. And that in itself can be heroic.

Look at the way Major Winters talks about it – even years later. Can you see how choked up he is by it? And it was the commitment of the man that impressed him, not the act. The beauty he describes is of a man being his best. A man doing all he can to support his ‘brothers’.

I’ve always strived to show that kind of loyalty to the people I care about, and I’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of some of it in return. RP, VV, Jose, and a bunch of others, have gone heroically out of their way to help me, and whenever I could I’ve done the same for them.

If you ask me, this is the very best thing about men. Women can’t tell you anything about heroism. To them it all looks like stupidity, particularly if the heroism involves personal risk. Women would never, ever sacrifice themselves in that way for anyone except their children. And how they feel about their children comes from a very different place than the heroism of men.

But men very much can - even perfectly ordinary men, doing ordinary things in their more or less ordinary lives. These days the word Hero is probably considerably overused. But my broader point is that heroism is an ideal. A goal. And a man can be capable of acting heroically, without ever being thought of as a hero.

No one puts up memorials to the day that Robert ‘Popeye’ Wynn was hit by a German grenade. But the men that were with him will never forget his heroism. They’ll never forget that when heroic commitment was required of him, he possessed what was necessary to deliver it. That he was heroic in his heart as he ever needed to be.

That's something that every man should strive for.

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