Words being my stock in trade, I hate to see them cheapened or dumbed down to where they lose all meaning. Take the word “hero” for example.
We celebrate Veterans Day this month, and the tendency today is to consider all veterans to be heroes. They’re not, at least the vast majority (I say that as a veteran myself). True heroes are rare.
Actually, we have two genuine heroes right here in Sedalia. Both men are veterans of the Vietnam War and both hold the Silver Star. The nation’s third-highest award for valor, the Silver Star is bestowed for one reason only: “gallantry in action.”
Richard Beard, an attorney, was a member of the elite 17th Airborne Division. As a first lieutenant, he was a platoon leader when his company encountered a sizable enemy force. I quote from the citation that accompanied his medal:
“Shortly after engaging the enemy, small arms and automatic weapons fire became so intense that air support was requested. One of the arriving gunships was shot down … crashing into enemy-held territory. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Lieutenant Beard directed his platoon in an assault across an open area adjacent to the enemy positions. Delivering withering small arms and grenade fire, Lieutenant Beard and his platoon succeeded in overrunning the enemy, killing two, wounding and capturing two, and securing three enemy automatic weapons. The enemy’s flank was penetrated as a direct result of Lieutenant Beard’s gallant assault, and the expeditious evacuation of the injured helicopter crewmen was assured.”
It was Beard’s second medal for battlefield bravery, having earned the Bronze Star in an earlier fight.
Retired businessman Larry Stevenson was a private first class with the 7th Cavalry when the battalion’s defensive perimeter was attacked by a strong enemy force. Stevenson’s squad was wiped out, leaving only him alive. I quote from his Silver Star citation:
“Private … Stevenson was the only effective fighting man left in a 50 to 75 meter section of the defensive position. Throwing hand grenades and firing his rifle, he valiantly stood his ground and killed numerous of the close-in assaulting enemy. Upon running out of ammunition, he climbed from his foxhole and … under heavy fire (ran) to an adjacent foxhole … where he gathered more grenades and M-16 magazines. Racing back to his position under fire, he continued to kill more of the enemy … . a lone, brave rifleman, (he) successfully defended that sector until (help) arrived …”
After the fighting stopped, the bodies of 17 North Vietnamese Army regulars were found in Stevenson’s sector.
Like most heroes, Beard and Stevenson didn’t think they did anything special. “I’ve never, ever thought of myself as a hero,” Beard said. “I was just doing my job.” He said his airborne training taught him that he couldn’t abandon the wounded helicopter crewmen.
Did Stevenson see his actions as heroic? “Hell no, I was trying to save my ass!” Surely, though, both were afraid. Think again.
“I didn’t have time to feel fear,” Beard recalled, “I had no feelings … I had to save those men.”
”You go past feeling fear,” Stevenson said. “I was numb.”
War, said General Sherman, is hell. Should you ever find yourself in one, hope that you’ll have a Beard or a Stevenson at your side.