Friday, September 11, 2009

Jo Davis GuestBlog: Let Us Never Forget The Heroes

From Michelle: Last September 11, Jo Davis visited RBTB to help us make a little sense of our feelings about the day by paying tribute to the "True Grit of An American Hero." Please welcome back Jo as she reminds us why looking back is the best way to move forward.

From Jo: Good morning, Michelle and Bellas! Thank you so much for having me back today to discuss a special topic, and for joining me in remembering the significance of this day. For paying tribute to my favorite folks—heroes.

Years ago, at a time when I was far more innocent, I listened to a gentleman tell a story of real-life suffering. Of cold, systematic murder on a grand scale and of people crying out for terror to end, for justice to prevail. What a horrible tale it was, and a valuable lesson no history book could ever teach. In a quiet, resolute voice, this man said, “Let us never forget what one human being can do to another.”

I’ll bet you thought I was referring to the day on most of our minds today, September 11, 2001. No, indeed. You see, that gentleman was an elderly Jewish man who spoke to my 10th grade high school World History class about surviving the most unimaginable horror of his time—years of incarceration at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany during World War II. A place where more than one million people died, 90% of whom were Jews. Hell on earth. And that gentleman lived to share his experiences and his message with others.

Let us never forget what one human being can do to another.

His words remain forever burned into my memory exactly as he spoke them to a group of wide-eyed 16 year-olds in my class, 28 years ago. They haunted me on December 21, 1988 as I watched news coverage of Pan Am Flight 103, brought down by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland. They made me shiver as I saw the tragedy of Oklahoma City unfold before my eyes on April 19, 1995, and again on April 20, 1999 as I learned of the massacre at Columbine High School.

They hit me hard on September 11, 2001, and many times since. History, it seems, will repeat itself because there are always those who will never get the message, or care about ideals such as freedom, love, and human dignity. Does this mean all is lost?

Absolutely not! While we as Americans should remember never to take these ideals for granted, there’s something else we should remember as well:

Out of the ashes, there is hope. Because for every tragic event, there are survivors. And for each survivor, there is a hero. Someone who helped them through their darkest hour, someone who reminded them that while there is evil in the world, there is also good. There is still a reason to believe that at the end of the day, the best in people will triumph.

You don’t have to take my word for it. The elderly gentleman who spoke to our history class survived Auschwitz because his fellow comrades kept hope alive, refused to let each other give in to despair. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, firemen and other rescue workers spent sixteen days pulling victims out of the rubble. A 27-year-old financial analyst donated his entire year’s salary to assist children orphaned by the tragedy.

On September 11, 2001, six firefighters helped a grandmother climb down from the 73rd floor of the North Tower. After they reached the 4th floor, the tower collapsed…but all seven people survived. That day, passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 overpowered hijackers, preventing them from reaching their intended target and sacrificing their own lives in the process.

What do every single one of these heroes have in common? The survivors are reluctant or downright refuse to take credit for their acts of bravery.

They are loyal. Selfless. Dedicated. Honorable. Courageous.

This is the stuff that makes a true hero, and there are endless examples of their sacrifices to light our way through the darkness. To remind us that while there are those in the world who would take away our freedom and our very lives, there are many more who would not, under any circumstances, allow them to prevail.

Shall we pause to reflect on the past, and never forget the horrors our enemies would inflict so that we may prevent them from happening in the future? Without a doubt.

But let us never forget the heroes who, in our moment of need, put it all on the line and risk everything to save us from harm. Because when your day of personal darkness comes, that hero may be the one who ensures you survive to pass on the message.

That hero might even

Has there been a hero who stepped in and saved your life or that of someone you know, or impacted it in some other way? If you could, would you write this person’s story?


EmilyBryan said...

Ok, I'll start. This is a true story that moves me to my toes, though I do not personally know any of the people involved.

It's about the real POWs in the camp depicted in the movie BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI. They were Scottish men who'd lost all hope. Forced into slave labor, beaten and starved, they began turning on each other, stealing food from each other, fighting for survival.

Then one day a guard was missing a shovel. He promised to kill the whole work detail unless the shovel was found. After several minutes, a man stepped forward and confessed to the theft. He was beaten to death before their eyes. Then the shovels were recounted and none were found to be missing.

Word of one man's sacrifice for his fellows spread through the prison camp. And it changed hearts. They remembered who they were and what they believed. They stopped stealing from each other. They started bearing each other's burdens.

And when they were liberated by their army, the soldiers who saved them were so incensed by the deplorable treatment the POW's endured, they wanted to kill the guards on the spot. But the prisoners stood in front of their tormentors and refused to take vengeance.

Now that is mercy and grace writ large.

amy kennedy said...

Jo, thank you for this.

I've had lots of heroes in my life, none on a grand scale. But, sometimes we don't know the scale until the end, I suppose.

Emily, what a story. I am in awe.

Jennifer August said...

Jo, I have chills reading your post and know that it's very true. My dad was a career army man who came home from Viet Nam to, not a hero's welcome, but derision, thrown eggs and tomatoes and protests. But it didn't stop him from doing his patriotic duty, from going back 5 times to ensure those people retained their rights to protest. I count that as quiet heroism.
Thanks for a great post, especially on this solemn day. Never forget.

Jo Davis said...

Good morning, ladies!

Emily, what an incredible, moving story. It only takes one person to change so many lives. Thank you for this! And thanks for visiting with me today. :)

Jo Davis said...

Hi Amy,
My heroes as well have been quiet ones, too. Like my dad, who is strong and in control, yet a quiet man, and loves his family. He has set a stellar example every day of my life without imposing his beliefs on others. He's my hero.

Jo Davis said...

Good morning! Great story about your dad. Boy, times were different back then as far as public's treatment of our servicemen. How brave they were to travel to a frightening place and do their duty in the face of adversity, then face such scorn when they returned. Yes, true heroes.

Thanks for coming by. :)

Jill Kemerer said...

What a moving post! I know so many heroes. No, they haven't physically saved someone's life, but they've had the right words or a hug just when it was most needed. We can be a hero every day just by being kind and reaching out.
Thanks so much for these beautiful words.

Stacy~ said...

Hey Jo. Moving post.

I agree that I also know several heroes, the kind of people that don't make the papers, but who are extraordinary in their selflessness, their generosity, their caring. These are people who inspire because they are thinking of others instead of themselves, and would go out of their way to help someone in need.

It's good to be reminded of the heroes in our lives.

Sandy Blair said...

Wonderful posts, ladies. Truly!!!

Keri Stevens said...

Thanks to the fine folks at NPR, I just learned that the Coast Guard coordinated with hundreds of private water craft to evacuate 500,000 people from Manhattan that day. Think of the guy on his fishing boat who answered that call . . .

Becke Davis said...

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." That quote is attributed to Edmund Burke, and I often think of it when I hear or read stories about the Holocaust.

What frightens me today is that many of those victims could have escaped, but they chose to stay because they didn't believe their friends and neighbors would turn on them.

Thankfully, many did help and thereby saved thousands of lives. But many thousands more might have been saved if others had not turned a blind eye, or assumed that someone else would make things right.

To me, that's one of the hardest lessons. Not just that we have to remember these events in order to prevent them from happening again, but that we have to leave our comfort zone and make sure we do whatever is necessary when our beliefs are put to the test.

I think the reason none of those people Jo described call themselves heroes is that they weren't conscious of their heroism when they acted. Instead, they acted like humans, and maybe -- when circumstances strip us of our humanity -- that's the most heroic thing of all.

Thanks for such a thought-provoking post, Jo.

Jo Davis said...

Hi Stacy and Sandy, thanks for stopping by. It's important to be reminded there are good folks all around us--hard to remember when all we hear is the bad. On a day like today, it's good to take a moment to honor people who've made sacrifices and influenced us positively.

Jo Davis said...

Good morning Keri!
I'd never heard that story! I can only imagine what that must've been like for those fishermen. It's amazing they got so many people out that day.

Thanks for stopping by!

Jo Davis said...

Hi Becke,
What a wonderful quote and post. What you say is so true. I'd like to think that when put to the test, I'd risk myself for my neighbor, someone I didn't even know. I can't imagine turning a blind eye. Is it asking too much that I never have to find out? These times are troubling, you ever feel like the world is a pot of scalding oil about to boil over right now?

If ever that quote is true, it's now. Thanks for those words.

Tiona said...

Thanks, Keri! It's amazing how many people pulled together that day and helped each other out. It is a true testament to humanity.
Also, I would like to bring to the attention the four-legged, pawed heroes of 9/11. The search and rescue dogs not only hepled search for survivors, but also helped in emotional support for the human team of handlers and workers. Go, doggies!

Becke Davis said...

I remember thinking of the Holocaust on 9/11/01. As a nation -- in this generation at least -- we lost our innocence on that day. We'd been conditioned to believe that "it can't happen here," and that made us complacent.

I think we've over-reacted in a lot of ways, but it's probably natural. How many of us really believe all those ridiculous airport security searches make us safe?

Statistically, we are safe -- certainly compared to most other countries. But with the event of 9/11, I think we all suddenly realized how quickly and easily all that could change.

I can't imagine what it must be like to grow up in a place where women have no freedom, where your husband or children could be taken and killed by authorities at any time of day or night, with little or no hope for the victims.

Like you, Jo, I hope I'd be able to stand up for my beliefs if it came to it, but it's scary to realize I don't really know how I'd react.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Good morning, Jo and Michelle.

A very timely and poignant post, Jo.

I'm lucky enough to work with heroes on a nightly basis. Over the years I've seen doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and even housekeepers do small heroic things that have saved lives. None of them see themselves as heroes, but as carrying people doing what they do best.

jo robertson said...

What a poignant post, Jo. Thanks for your moving words. I love the idea of quiet heroes, those who move among us, just doing their jobs and lifting our spirits.

Jo Davis said...

Hello Pricess B,
How could I forget the search and rescue dogs? I've seen them in action, and they are truly amazing!
Thanks for popping in.

Jo Davis said...

Hey Suz!
Bringing new little lives into the world is definitely a heroic feat every day! Especially when things get dicey. My daughter was a preemie and I'll never forget the kindess and lifesaving measures the doctors and nurses took to make sure she survived.

Jo Davis said...

Hi Jo R! I totally agree with you on the strong, quiet ones. Like my dad. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Diana Cosby said...

Thank you for the heart-touching post. It's of ultimate importance to persevere, to keep our guard up and remember freedom isn't free. It's the sacrifices of our friends and neighbors that make it so. Often, we never see heroic acts or are aware of the sacrifices made, but bravery is displayed daily, and I thank God for each and ever act.

Diana Cosby
Romance Edged With Danger

Kate Carlisle said...

Jo, thanks so much for your lovely post. The fires in my area of Southern California provide a daily reminder that we are surrounded by everyday heroes who willingly endanger their own lives to protect ours. I can't begin to imagine the level of courage and intestinal fortitude it takes for them to do that, but I thank heaven every day they're out there. :-)

Fedora said...

Jo, thank you for the eloquent and moving reminder of the heroes who step up and do big life-saving deeds, and also for those who keep doing small acts to lift others up. And yes, by choosing to step forward and choosing to do a good thing, even we can be heroes! Thank you all for being light--may we all do that for each other!


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buona sera, Bellas, and Jo, welcome again. Tradition, ritual, they're important and comforting things. That's why I'm glad you've joined us a second year to help us gather to sort through our feelings about 9/11 and "senseless" tragedy. As much as I'm a fan of escaping w/romance -- and started reading it somewhat in response to 9/11 -- I find it helpful to discuss the issues and emotions surrounding the day and the past years. When we explore the reasons 'senseless' things happen, we start to see at least what forced them into play, and then can get a handle on how we want to respond and move forward.

Folks have so many ways of getting through this day. Some look only forward. Some need to remember the day w/specifics. On Twitter today, Caridad Pineiro's been describing moments she remembers from 9/11/01. That's very comforting to me, a kind of touchstone, a way to say, "I remember, too; it happened, we won't forget your pain and loss, even though we'll move forward and try to change things."

I wake each 9/11 and remember the exquisite weather of 9/11/01. My kids were young, in pre-school, my son attending one at a neighborhood synagogue. We picked up our kids and looked at one another and started talking about devising new security plans. Suddenly, seeing a car pull in the synagogue parking lot at 10pm as we were passing by looked suspicious, and I remember feeling angry for thinking that way -- and for having to think that way.

That's one of the things 9/11 did to so many of us, one thing horribly insidious about it. It took Americans who built a country around working really hard to work as a team of many different folks, and once again made us suspicious of anyone 'different.'

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Emily, that's an amazing story; thank you. Tales of forgiveness are really humbling, especially when the wrongs are so grievous.

Thank you for sharing that, Jennifer, and to your father for his unparalleled, true patriotism. The cases of negative reaction to Viet Nam vets like your father is one of the great embarrassments of the last Century. I hope we never forget that debacle, the way those men were treated when they came home after serving. There's lots of room for varying political views in this big nation, but I can't imagine not respecting the man or woman who serves with honor, especially when I've never served and never will have to.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

That's it, Amy. And the ones who take credit for nothing, who do things anonymously, or who are simply a member of a team of heroes. That's amazing.

I think you're right about the 'being a hero just by being kind and reaching out," jill. Doesn't it feel like you've done something heroic when someone says thanks for something you did 'just because?'

You're right, Stacy, it's good to take a day like today for that reason.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sandy.

What a story, Keri. All the different strata of society that merged that day, folks who were forced or who were drawn together on 9/11 because they wanted to do the right thing.

Thanks for that lovely comment and quote, Becke. you wrote: they acted like humans. that's it: the decency that makes us able to feel another's humanity, to share it. When we're missing it, it's awful, and when someone offers it, it's a blessing, nourishing.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Suzanne, I only can imagine the courage and heroics you see working in a hospital and, as you say, in unexpected places.

Diana, this is a good time, too, to thank you and your fellow RomVets for serving courageously. You point out the hard truth: there's a price to be paid for keeping our families safe, and some pay more than others. 8 years ago, one couldn't leave the house w/out seeing American flags flying from 80% of cars on the road. 8 years later, our troops are still fighting/protecting, and the flags are not displayed en route. So we take days like today to formally remember and give thanks and, hopefully, do so in our homes as well.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Great point, principessa! Guess there aren't a whole lotta 'rescue kitties' out there. We've always joked that were something to happen to us with just the cat around, she'd happily prance over our incapacitated bodies to get to the litter box and food bowls.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hi, Kate. I've often thought about those fires, and the courage it takes to fight them, as well as continue to build in the area. I know they say there are people who love the adrenaline of the wildfire fighting, but there's got to be more to it than that.

Hiya, Fedora! I just smiled when I saw your name, and it made me think that, yes, we do a lot for each other just by being present sometimes.

Jo Davis said...

You are so right--freedom certainly isn't free and we have to remember that. I thank God for our troops, and that's something I should have mentioned in my post.

Thanks for stopping by!

Jo Davis said...

Hi Kate! Another Bandit in the room! Thanks for coming by.

I think about the wildfires in California and the firefighters out there trying to contain them. I have family out there and am always worried about them. Thank heavens for the brave folks fighting the blaze.

Jo Davis said...

Fedora, nicely put. We can all be each other's light. All it takes is a simple kindess. :)

Thanks for coming by!

Jo Davis said...

thanks so much for having me back today. This is such an important day to remember. They day our innocence was lost. I recall how I was still teaching then, and my principal let us go watch the library TV in shifts as the events unfolded. We watched the 2nd plane hit, live, and just stood in stunned, horrified silence.

I remember how hard it was to explain to my own two children, then in elementary school, how someone could be so cruel as to commit these acts. It was nearly impossible to put into words.

What you said about folks having out their American flags hit home. My father in law and brother in law are retired Marines. My hubby and I have *always* flown a flag on the front of our house, and we saw other flags brought out as passions soared, then disappear as the years passed. Our house is the only one with a flag on our street and one of very few in our entire subdivision. That's the way it is, I guess, but it makes me wonder.

Paula R said...

Hi Jo and Michelle...I don't have a story, but I have something I want to share with you guys...I wrote this on the 6th anniversary of the terror was on a day like today, when it hit me and I had to reflect. I hope this poem helps to put things in perspective.

A Moment of Silence
(in Memoriam 9-11-01) By Paula Robinson

The day dawns, dark and damp
with a chill to the air
The wind is at a standstill
the whispering of leaves quieted
as if demonstrating a subtle moment of silence

Stillness is pervasive and the quiet is overwhelming
seeping into the very fiber of our existence
There is a subtle pause

As we remember
for we will never forget
the tragedy that occurred on this date

Six years may seem like a lot
but the pain is as real as if it were today
Anger and resentment festers within some
while others vocalize their sorrow

Teardrops fall from the heavens
cleansing the earth
symbolizing our desire to have the tragic events washed away

Our pain runs deep
and the scab, though present, is not completely healed
So let’s all stand in a moment of silence
and try to ease the indelible ache within us

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Myrin said...

Buona sera, Michelle and Jo (and it really is - it's already well after 10 p.m. here).

Oh Jo, your blog almost had me crying. How beautifully you write that. Even before reading that you thought of the Holocaust, I did so, too. I remembered when earlier this year, Barack Obama visited Germany and the KZ Buchenwald. I was at my grandparents' at that exact time who don't live that far away from there and they even shut down the highway that is in the direct neighbourhood of my grandparents so that nothing would happen to the president and our chancellor and all the other attendants. And I remember hearing the Jewish author Eli Wiesel talking about his time in Buchenwald where he was only a boy and where his father died cruelly. And what he said touched me so deeply, it was so wonderful, I started to weep in front of the TV. He didn't hate the Germans or thought everyone here was bad (you could even still hear his accent!), he was so very kind and forgiving and ... yes, wise, it touched my very soul.

Being German, the whole Nazi-topic is very different to me than it is to Americnas or even other Europeans. We still have to face prejudices because of where we're from, and I think that's so very mean because there were true (German) heroes in that time who gave their lives to do something against the Regime.

I think of Graf Stauffenberg (played by Tom Cruise in a movie earlier this year or last year, what I, personally, found very inappropriate) who attempted assassination on Hitler and who only failed because the desk his bomb was hidden under was too thick and prevented everybody from real harm.

Or Sophie Scholl, who, with her brother and some friends, made pamphlets and handed them out everywhere in the Munich University and the whole area - they group was called Wei├če Rose - "White Rose", maybe you know them.

Both Sophie Scholl and Graf Stauffenberg were condemned to death and died at a very young age because they were courageous and did believe in the good in the world.

Those are my heroes, along with all the countless people who hid Jewish children and said they were their own or who fought against evil with words or deeds because they knew that it was the right thing to do.

It's the saddest part of our history and I hope that one day, people see how wrong all those wars and hatred are and that a life in peace is the true thing to be desired.

Jo Davis said...

thank you very much for sharing your beautiful poem. That was extremely touching.

Jo Davis said...

You're very welcome. This day brings back memories not only of Sept 11, but of many recollections of times when people have had to rise up against terror. There are good people in every society, and we have to hold on to the hope that oppression will continue to be stamped out.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Paula R said...

You are welcome Jo. I have a couple of poems I wrote dedicated to this incident. I am working on another book, dedicated to incidents like this...I hope to honor all the survivors of all wars, global, local and personal.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Vanessa Kelly said...

I'm a day late here, Jo, but I wanted to thank you for your beautifully written and moving post. I watched many of the 9/11 tributes and documentaries yesterday, reliving the horrors of the day, and being astounded by the bravery of first responders and ordinary people. Your post is both inspiring and comforting, and helps to put the terrible tragedy in perspective. Thanks!

Pat L. said...

What a beautiful tribute you have written. Thank you.

ev said...

Day late, but I was busy flying home from LA. Where I did see the fires on our way into LAX.

My husband was one of those who came home from Viet Nam to anything but a heroes welcome. He gets tears in his eyes when he sees things on the news showing the way the returning vets are treated today. It makes him proud.

He did 30+ years in the military. Sthot twice. He hides his medals in a drawer except for when he puts his dress blues on. (which he does and I find irressitable)

I have a family full of cops and soilders. I put in my time. I have friends still over in the big sand box or heading back. Again. Both of my grandsons are heading into ROTC shortly, they are going to carry on the family traditions.

How can I not be proud?