Merriam-Webster defines: Hero
It is a basic tenet of the personal Philosophy of Animal that the word “hero” should mean something. It’s not a word that should apply to an actor or sports figure, unless that person has done something outside the realm of acting or sports, something heroic. Winning a football game doesn’t count. It’s an accomplishment few people can do, sure, and something to be proud of, yes; but heroic? No. A hero is someone who demonstrates unusual courage, one who sets an moral or ethical example above and beyond the ordinary; one who, by his or her actions, inspires others to strive to achieve.
The first is the man who for me, completely outstrips and overshadows all the others, because of the impact he has made in my life.
This foremost AnimalHero is, of course, the Old Man. It was not until I grew into a reluctant adulthood that I realized how much the Old Man taught me, and he still has lessons even now. Work ethic, integrity, courage, steadfastness, common sense; everything good about me came from him. He taught me to love my home, my family, my land, my country. He taught me the value of skepticism. He taught me to ruthlessly self-examine, to study, to scrutinize my own opinions as relentlessly as I would an opponent’s – and that habit has served me well in the decades since. He also taught me to treat people with the respect they deserve. He is an old-fashioned country gentleman, a self-taught expert on the Revolution and the Civil War, an artist of some renown, an absolute wizard with a shotgun, and the finest man I have ever known.
I have in my life met people who have taken the comment “you’re just like your father!” as an insult. For me, it’s the finest compliment anyone could pay me. I’ll never be able to repay you, Dad, for all that you’ve taught me, all that you’ve done for me – so I’ll just have to settle for trying to be as good a father, as good a man, as you.
I got to know the future Mrs. Animal when we were both in the same Army medical company, busy with the run-up to our deployment for the first Gulf War in 1990. To say we hit it off is something of an understatement.
During that deployment, she was asked to take over operation of an experimental new setup; an Army medical clearing platoon stationed at an Air Force airhead, evacuating casualties from the area of operations to Landstuhl, Germany. A team of two Colonels – one Air Force, one Army – and an Army Captain had failed to make this work, resulting in a mess that smelled all the way back to General Schwarzkopf’s office. Mrs. A took the unit over and ran it, successfully, and was awarded the Bronze Star for her efforts.
At some point during that fracas, she inhaled some Sarin gas from a munitions storage dump that our Air Force destroyed to the north and west of our company. She has suffered from chronic pain and loss of balance ever since – but she is still walking, fifteen years after doctors said she would be in a wheelchair. She is a beloved mother, a business partner, my partner in life, and has more physical and emotional courage than anyone I know.
Now, on to some others:
Brevet Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The hero of Gettysburg, whose actions at Little Round Top probably saved the Union Army, and allowed them to go on to win the battle that became the turning point of the Civil War. Chamberlain was not a professional soldier; two years before Gettysburg he was teaching rhetoric at Maine’s Bowdoin College. But his military career was sufficiently distinguished that he was chosen by General Grant to officially receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.
General George Smith Patton III. The right man in the right job at the right time. Old Blood and Guts was the consummate combat general. He was ruthless, profane, and driven, and one of the best combat commanders of the Second World War. He and his Third Army were like a loaded gun – point him in the right direction and pull the trigger, and Third Army would do the rest.
Major Richard Winters. The WW2 hero of Brecourt Manor, Carentan, Operation Market Garden and Bastogne. On D-Day, then-Lieutenant Winters led 14 men to take three German howitzers at Brecourt Manor, and ended up battling a company of German infantry that was serving the guns. He went on to command Easy Company, 1st. Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and later served as battalion XO and acting battalion commander. His small-unit tactics at Brecourt Manor were nothing short of brilliant, and are still taught today as a classic example of a successful small-unit raid against a fixed position.
Hypatia. Greek scholar, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, killed by a band of lunatic pre-Reformation Christians that were the spiritual kin of today’s Fred Phelps and his inbred ilk. Hypatia was a tremendous intellect at the worst possible time, at the end of the Classical Era and the beginning of the Dark Ages.
Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis. Better known as Cato the Younger. One of Rome’s greatest men, famed for his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his commitment to the Republic.
Marcus Tullius Cicero. Another of Rome’s great statesman, through threats, exile and more he opposed the worst excesses of the Triumvirate that seized power after the death of Julius Caesar. His opposition to Mark Antony proved fatal, but he died bravely, daying to the soldier sent to kill him “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”
Thomas McKean. My ancestor, signatory of the Declaration of Independence, battalion commander in the Continental Army during the Revolution, eighth President of the Continental Congress and the second President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. (George Washington was the first President under the current Constitution.) Like all of the Founders, McKean put his life on the line in rebelling against British rule. His line, the McKeans, faded out in time; the last in my father’s line, my great-great-great grandfather David McKean, died sometime in the first years of the 20th century. I’m proud to carry his last name as my middle name.
Thomas Jefferson. While George Washington was the military and, in some ways, the political father of our country, Thomas Jefferson was one of the foremost philosophical fathers of our country. Author of the Declaration of Independence, served as the first Secretary of State, as Minister to France, and as Governor of Virginia. Jefferson was in France during the adoption of our current Constitution but supported the effort, particularly the Bill of Rights. He was one of the great intellectual forces among the Founding Fathers.
Charles Darwin. The father of modern biology and the theory of evolution. While evolutionary biology has changed over time, Darwin’s basic principles – variation, differential reproductive success, and change in populations over time – have survived a century and a half of scientific scrutiny, the hand-wringing and shouting of ignorant religious nutbars aside.
Abraham Lincoln. President during the greatest crisis in our nation’s history, Lincoln held the nation together almost through the force of personal will. Lincoln’s story was classically American – a boy from rural Illinois, largely self-educated in his early life (not uncommon in those days) who rose to the nation’s highest office. His actions during the Civil War were aimed at one end – preserve the Union at all costs – and he succeeded. The price he paid was an assassin’s bullet, but a study of Lincoln’s history, writings and actions would tend to make one believe he would have accepted that cost had he known it in advance.
General Robert E. Lee. Yes, really. General Lee is probably the most beloved general officer in American history. Before the Civil War he was considered the U.S. Army’s foremost officer, having served in the Mexican War and in the Department of Texas, and when that conflict began, then-Colonel Lee was offered command of the Army of the Potomac. He declined and resigned his commission to fight for the Confederacy and did so brilliantly, save for the one uncharacteristic, tragic mistake that almost certainly cost him the war. The mistake, strangely, was later known as “Pickett’s Charge,” but it was General Lee that ordered it.
Theodore Roosevelt. A particular favorite, our 26th President was born a slight, sickly child, but schooled himself out of weakness as an advocate of what he called “the strenuous life.” Teddy lived large, hunting big game all over the world, serving as the commander of the famous Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, as Governor of New York, and as New York City Police Commissioner – all before age 42, when the assassination of President William McKinley made him President. Even after his term as President, he preferred to be addressed as “Colonel Roosevelt.”
Donald Johanson. One of the foremost paleoanthropologists of our time, discoverer of the famous Lucy fossil, and author of several books on human evolution.
Michio Kaku. This guy is simply brilliant, probably one of the smartest people on the planet today. A theoretical physicist working on superstring and m-theory, Kaku also has an unusual gift – he can take incredibly complex ideas of cutting-edge quantum physics and explain them so any old Animal can understand them. He routinely appears on science shows and news programs, and his attitude towards future technologies is not “we can’t do that,” but rather “maybe we can do that – here’s how it might work.”