Meadville Tribune

Local News

July 7, 2013

SUNDAY ISSUE: What makes a 'hero'?

MEADVILLE — Editor’s note: The following is written by Richard Young of Jamestown, who in addition to being a page designer at The (Sharon) Herald is a Civil War re-enactor who is spending the anniversary week in Gettysburg doing just that.

Andy Rooney said it best in a manner with which only he could pull off.

“During World War II I spent three years attached to the 8th Air Force in England, and I am here to tell you that not every serviceman is a hero,” Rooney once said.

“Hero” has become, without doubt, the most overused word in the American usage of the English language. In our post 9/11 world, it seems everybody is a hero: every member of the military, every policeman and emergency responder, every doctor, nurse and teacher, every volunteer who has every given up a Saturday for whatever cause, every Cub Scout, all the way down to the helper who shelves books at the library is a hero.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for all of these people, especially when it’s my house that’s on fire, and there are plenty who are worthy of the title. But is everyone a “hero?”

Not hardly. In every profession there are plenty of people who simply fill a job, and Lord knows there are screw-ups in every line of work, even journalism.

The word “hero,” therefore, must be used appropriately, reserved for those individuals who actually do something that is truly heroic. Otherwise, its meaning is cheapened.

With that said, the second day at Gettysburg produced a genuine hero.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was not a trained warrior from West Point but rather a professor of rhetoric and oratory from Bowdoin College in Maine. He took leave from his classes to join the newly formed 20th Maine Regiment and was given an officer’s commission. He would later lead it as its colonel.

He was a sensitive, bookish academic, the most unlikely of heroes. But in a desperate moment, he summoned the courage to order an extraordinary action to save something greater than himself, as all heroes do.

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