Webster defines a hero as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. Their heroic acts are performed with recognition of the possible risks and costs but they are outweighed by the concerns for others in need.
As we celebrate Memorial Day, we have to look no further than our own one square mile to find military heroes throughout the Village’s history. Examples abound:
- As a newly minted 1942 Bronxville High School graduate, Peter Ernsdale joined the 10th Mountain Division and was tasked to fight Germans on skis at night at Riva Ridge in Italy with only bayonets as weapons. Peter’s division won control of the pivotal passage but he succumbed to wounds inflicted.
- Jesse Carter Treadwell of 43 Woodland Avenue was a World War II rescue swimmer who saved stranded and hyper thermic seamen from ships attacked by U-boats. He lost his own life when his rescue boat hit a mine and a contemporary, Howard C. Shepherd, of 20 Argyle Place died on the battlefield at Iwo Jima after his platoon withstood 13 counter attacks.
- Another homegrown hero, Henry Russell Kenyon Jr. died at the battle of Midway flying his low slow torpedo runs which knowingly left him a sitting target resulting in his death in the air. His bravery merited him the Navy Cross for, “extraordinary heroism”.
- One of the most incredibly heroic local stories is that of Edwin Keeble Junior. He left Princeton to join the Marines during the Vietnam War and was a gun ship escort pilot near the Laos border. He was shot down as he knowingly trained the enemy gunfire on his aircraft to divert it from the air ambulances filled with wounded soldiers.
- Sagamore Road resident Clifford Markel ended World War I in a German prison camp, yet with an incredible sense of duty, he volunteered to serve again after Pearl Harbor. Not one branch of the service would accept him due to lingering health issues as a result of being gassed by the Germans so he volunteered as a field director for the Red Cross in North Africa where he was ambushed while rescuing people in the war zone.
- Right now, the Village is experiencing a new breed of heroes in our midst; doctors, nurses, first responders and essential workers of every industry who serve us on a daily basis despite fear of contracting Covid19.
Given both the time of year when we honor our military heroes and the unprecedented challenges we are experiencing that spawned a new generation of heroes, it caused me to do research on exactly what characteristics or qualities make a hero? Is there a hero gene?
It is interesting that while researchers know a great deal about what causes people to perform acts described as evil, yet our understanding of what makes people heroes is not quite so clear. Many researchers believe heroes possess a majority of what are called the “Great Eight” of traits: smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable and inspiring. Other prototypical characteristics of heroes identified by research include bravery, moral integrity, courage, a protective instinct, conviction, honesty, altruism and self-sacrifice.
True heroism appears to be remarkably sober and very undramatic. In essence, it is not an urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, rather the urge to serve them at whatever cost.
Research shows heroes seem to have a knack for being able to see things from the perspective of others; they can walk a mile in another man’s shoes so to speak. When they encounter a situation where an individual is in need, they are immediately able to see themselves in that same situation and see what needs to be done to help. Like our war heroes, our first responders, our teachers and our essential workers often become someone else’s hero during their lifetime. As a result, we live in the midst of heroes, however unsung.
A quiet unassuming person who motivates other people to live their lives with courage and faith despite all of life’s difficulties with their head held high can be a hero as well. Scientists believe by thinking of heroism as a universal attribute of human nature, not as a rare feature of the few, some level of heroism is in the range of possibility for all of us to answer the call.
Heroes circulate the life force of goodness in our collective veins – and clearly, now more than ever, what the world needs is more heroes.