The courage of children: Pupils reflect on the making of heroes

Last month I had a wonderfully uplifting experience at Stevens Creek Elementary School in Columbia County. I had been invited by Tara Hansen to teach the entire fifth grade, about 150 pupils. The topics were leadership, service to others and courage. I stressed that there are extraordinary individuals who can serve as role models for us all.

 

TO KICK THE SESSION off,  a portion of a video on Augusta hero Jimmie Dyess was shown. This was followed by stories of heroism on the part of both civilians and members of the military.

 In describing the Carnegie Medal, I explained that it was the highest award for civilian valor.  I then told the true story of an 11-year-old boy who volunteered to go down 18 feet into an abandoned cesspool. A baby had fallen through a small concrete opening. The opening was so small that no adult could fit through it.

After getting permission from his mother, the boy squeezed through the tiny opening and descended, upside-down, until he reached the crying baby. Firemen who had tied the boy's feet with a rope then pulled the boy and the baby up. Just as the boy reached the opening, he dropped the slippery baby, who fell back into the muck.

The boy said that he had to try again. Back he went with a sling in his hand so he would not drop the baby during the second rescue effort. This attempt was successful, and the crowd cheered as the boy and the terrified baby emerged. For this act of courage, this boy became one of the youngest recipients of the Carnegie Medal.

AFTER TELLING THIS story, I asked, "Would you have done what that boy did that day?" More than half of the audience held up their hand. When asked why, the answers were fascinating. One said that it was the right thing to do. Another said that it would make her feel good. Another said we should always try to help people.

My talk was short so there would be plenty of time for questions. About 50 were asked. This past week, pupils were queried on their reactions to the session. Here are three:

- "I know now without a doubt that heroes can be all sizes, colors, ages and backgrounds, and that makes me hopeful for my chance to be someone's hero."

- "Heroes aren't always grand people, they're not always destined for heroism, they're not always strong, but I do think they all have something special."

- "Heroes can be as close as a friend or a family member, but they can also be a passing stranger. This made me think about how I should take the time to look for heroism in those people I care about and learn from them so that I might one day see the chance to be a hero to someone that I may not even know."

Powerful lessons can be drawn from this session. Children at a young age learn the difference between right and wrong. They also understand how important it is to look out for others, especially those in trouble. If all of us who are parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts can emphasize and reinforce these principles with children, our community and our nation will be well-served.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED in the subject of courage and selflessness, the following books are recommended. The last three are especially suitable for children.

- A Century of Heroes, by Douglas R. Chambers. This book tells the story of the Carnegie Medal. It includes a chapter on Jimmie Dyess.

- I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, by Jimmie Doolittle. Aviation pioneer Doolittle tells the story of his long and productive life.

- Medal of Honor, by Peter Collier. This best selling book tells the life stories of our living Medal of Honor recipients. It includes a 90-minute DVD.

- If Not Now, When? by Jack Jacobs. This is the autobiography of a remarkable American and great friend of Augusta, Medal of Honor recipient Jacobs.

Finally, a reminder: Jack Jacobs will be in Augusta this Tuesday, Jan. 11. During the inaugural Jimmie Dyess Symposium, Jacobs will be the first recipient of the Jimmie Dyess Distinguished American Award. The event starts at 5 p.m. at the Augusta Museum of History. Everyone is welcome and attendance is free. Jacobs will be signing copies of If Not Now, When? and Medal of Honor starting at 4:30 p.m. Both books will be provided at a discount.

(The writer -- a retired U.S. Air Force major general -- is the president of the board of trustees of the Augusta Museum of History, and secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. His e-mail address is genpsmith@aol.com.)

 

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