We have used the word hero a lot lately in our nation. We have seen lots of courageous acts and nobility of character across Tennessee.
Many people among us have made special achievements and displayed incredible abilities. Their personal qualities are regarded as a role model or ideal to be replicated.
If you talk to people who are heroes, you discover humility in them. For them, they were just doing what they were expected to do. For them, it is nothing special.
Sgt. Alvin York, perhaps the greatest hero in Tennessee history, wrote in his diary regarding the battle at Argonne that celebrated him, “So you can see here in this case of mine where God helped me out. I had been living for God and working in the church some time before I come to the army. So, I am a witness to the fact that God did help me out of that hard battle; for the bushes were shot up all around me and I never got a scratch.”
York was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine-gun nest, taking control of 32 machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others during World War I. York never wanted the recognition.
However, York added a chilling thought in his address at the Memorial Day ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 30, 1941, “We fought that last war to make the world safe for democracy, and we did — for a while. The thing they forget is that liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win them once — and then stop. Liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those peoples who fight to win them, and then keep fighting eternally to hold them. By our victory in the last war, we won a lease on liberty, not a deed to it.”
York recognized the moment at Argonne and didn’t let the moment pass him by.
I would argue often heroes do small things. They leave a domestic violence situation. They choose to feed their children while going hungry. They choose to get mental-health help or do not take their life when everything around them is bleak. It takes tremendous courage to keep fighting when it seems that all is lost.
Winston Churchill wrote, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”
We have seen many heroes in 2020. Those who bravely faced tornadoes, those who chose to warn their neighbors and those who are helping the community rebuild. They are heroes in my book.
The COVID-19 crisis has seen a rise in our recognition of other heroes, particularly first responders, nurses, doctors, medical staff and researchers who lay their lives on the line and self-isolate from their own families to take care of others.
There are folks we don’t usually recognize like fast-food workers, grocery store workers whose heroic deeds should not escape us ... heroes all. Law enforcement, fire and rescue, military and educators have never stopped doing their job. I am sure there are even more people we need to recognize and appreciate.
I can speak to the drive and determination of our educators. They were often at the mercy of state and local officials. They were in essence, flying an airplane while building the engine. Perfect? No. However, we combined distance learning and online learning quickly to continue educating children.
Lest we forget the amazing school and district teams that worked to keep students fed and ensure access to critical meal services while school buildings were closed. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, our state is providing, on average 1,538,382 meals per week to students. Our bus drivers delivered many of these meals. These workers need special recognition, as well. Again, they often risked their own health and exposure to COVID-19 while performing their duties.
Our children, the next generation, have watched what we have done in this circumstance. They have seen the bravery and courage of many people, and hopefully, they will heed that lesson.
Heroes always emerge in difficult times. They will not seek recognition. We should honor them for going above and beyond to do extraordinary things in an uncommon time. They didn’t let the moment pass them by. We really do walk with heroes.
(About the writer: JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville. A Bradley County native, Bowman is also a former Bradley County Schools educator. The veteran teacher is a regular contributor to the Opinion page of the Cleveland Daily Banner.)