By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Hero. It’s a word bandied about rather lightly these days.
When the quarterback throws the winning touchdown pass in the big game, when the first baseman hits the walk-off home run, when the point guard hits the game-clinching basket, they are hailed as heroes.
When the movie idol leaps from an airplane, parachutes through the window of a high-rise building and knocks out the terrorist mastermind just before he pushes the button to blow up a major U.S. city, we consider him a hero.
Comic book figures with incredible powers, the ability to fly, to see through buildings, to toss railroad engines around with one hand like beanbags, are labeled superheroes.
Men and women in uniform — police, firefighters, first responders, military personnel — are certainly deserving of the title of hero for their many contributions to their fellow man, though most would reject it.
But many real heroes are ordinary people who reacted in an extraordinary fashion when confronted with a life or death situation.
Four times a year the Carnegie Hero Fund recognizes ordinary people who risked their lives to save others. In many cases the Carnegie Hero medals are awarded posthumously.
The most recent honorees were announced not long ago, including an Edmond teen.
In June 2011, Summer White, then 17, was driving home from a horse show in Wichita when she saw a woman lying in the middle of the Kansas Turnpike.
The woman was ejected from the car in which she was riding drifted off the road and struck a car parked on the shoulder, then in turn was struck by a pickup.
White stopped and was attempting to pull the woman to safety when the victim’s car was struck by a U-Haul truck.
The impact pushed the car into White and the badly injured woman. White was injured, but survived, while the woman later died at a Wichita hospital.
In all, 19 people received the most recent Carnegie Hero medals, which were established in 1904 by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The youngest was 16, the oldest 55.
These people are from far-flung places like Rogue River, Ore., and Beresford, New Brunswick, Canada.
They are of different ages and backgrounds, both men and women, but all have one thing in common — in one crucial moment, when they could have hesitated, could have played it safe, could have waited for someone else to act, they risked their lives to save that of another.
I would wager that none of them considered the fact they might win Carnegie Hero medals, or the money in grants, awards, tuition or other assistance the honor qualifies them for.
I doubt they thought about getting their name and picture in the paper, or capturing a few minutes of air time on TV or radio.
As Summer White told the Wichita Eagle, “All I could think of was that there were cars coming and I had to get her out of the road.”
Thinking first of others, second of themselves, that’s the true mark of heroes.
“We live in a heroic age,” wrote Carnegie when he established the program.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem so. The news is filled with tales of crime and violence, of hatred and cruelty, of sexual violation and swindling.
It is thus comforting to know this remains, indeed, an “heroic age.”
The National Association of Letter Carriers recently recognized some of its members who have performed heroic deeds.
One saved a boy swept out to sea, another climbed over a fence to distract two pit bulls who were attacking a woman, another saved lives after a car hit a house and ruptured a gas line.
A 14-year old Oregon boy recently saved an 8-year-old child from a burning house.
“I can’t really say I really consider myself a hero,” the boy told the Oregonian newspaper. “I think anyone would have done what I did.”
Anyone could, certainly. We all are capable of having heroic moments.
But not everyone does. And that’s why we honor those who do.
The Carnegie Medal folks won’t even consider anyone for their honor if they did not risk their life to save that of another. Fair enough.
But there are plenty of everyday heroes who never receive medals or cash awards.
They are grandparents raising their grandchildren, parents who forego eating to feed their children, neighbors who shovel snow for the elderly widow next door, volunteers who team to fix the leaky roof of a disabled veteran, anyone who donates money to the needy when they themselves are on a tight budget.
Want to be a hero? Simply take every opportunity you can to help someone in need with no thought of the cost, or the benefit, to yourself.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.