Reading the blog post by Neil Cosgrove about LCpl Patrick Gallagher , "Courage Worthy of the Foremost Recognition," and this being the day in the US where we honor those who died defending our nation, gave me pause to consider something that has become a pet peeve of mine. As someone who served in the US Army in Vietnam, and who has read extensively about the military history of the US and of the Irish in Ireland and other places around the world, I have listened with extreme displeasure as it has become more and more common for people to refer to everyone who served this country in a war zone, regardless of what that service may have entailed, as a "hero."
It seems to me that this habit began to enter common usage during the first Gulf War. Of course, the motivation of this practice was a noble one: to honor the service of all those who go off to war to serve our country. Each and every one certainly does put their life at risk in doing so, as every war zone is a dangerous place. One doesn't have to be on the front line carrying an M-16 in their hands to be said to have put their live on the line for our country. But is the taking of this risk for our country ALONE enough to justify the designation “hero?” I think not. Most of us do things every day that carry some risk, often voluntarily. Do any of us consider ourselves “heroes” for venturing out upon our highways, a very dangerous activity? The majority of our troops serve in support roles. Their jobs are vital, but under ordinary circumstances they don’t require heroic action by the soldiers who do them. When I hear someone called a hero, I’d like to know it means something more than having spent a year in a war zone.
None of this is said to in any way denigrate the service of the many millions of Americans who honorably served our country, obviously, since I’m one of them. I am proud of that service and I’m sure that most of you reading this who also served are as well. But if we are all heroes, then what in the world do we call people like LCpl Patrick Gallagher (right), who fell on a grenade to save his comrades, or Lt. Michael Murphy, the Medal of Honor awardee who’s incredible story was told in the film “Lone Survivor” or someone like WWII’s Audie Murphy? Would any of us who went off to war and were never asked to do anything remotely like what these men did want our service to be equated with theirs? If everyone is a “hero” for merely serving, then what superlative is left to describe these soldiers, and many others like them? They most certainly WERE heroes according to the original definition of the word, not this new, watered down version.
I was an MP in Vietnam. Could I have died there, certainly, but to compare what I did, or others whose service to this country was similar, to the men listed above, in my opinion, doesn’t honor us, it disparages the sacrifice of these very real heroes. And their sacrifice was truly the last full measure of devotion that a solider can give. So please, let’s reserve the designation of hero to those who truly have earned it. I am not a hero.