Herald-Whig View

Ordinary heroes eclipse the type who appear in superhero movies

Posted: Jun. 4, 2018 9:10 am

This editorial was printed in the Chicago Tribune.

This spring, feats of heroism aren't confined to superhero movies. Witness the stirring exploits of three ordinary -- or should we say extraordinary -- heroes:

Late last month in Paris, Mamoudou Gassama scaled four balconies, hand over hand, to rescue a 4-year-old boy dangling from a railing. The child had been left home alone. "I saw all these people shouting, and cars sounding their horns," the 22-year-old Mali native said. "So I crossed the road to go save him." Afterward, he said, "I started to shake, I could hardly stand up."

One day earlier, Noblesville, Ind., middle school teacher and former college football player Jason Seaman tackled a student who invaded his classroom and started shooting. "I want to make it clear that my actions on that day, in my mind, were the only acceptable actions I could have done given the circumstances," said Seaman, who was wounded three times. "I deeply care for my students and their well-being. That is why I did what I did."

In late April, James Shaw Jr. wrested a rifle from a gunman who had already fatally wounded four people at a Nashville Waffle House restaurant. Shaw, 29, an electrician, grabbed the barrel of an AR-15 rifle, seriously burning his hand, as the shooter was reloading. "I'd rather you regard me as James, you know, just a regular person," he said as praise poured in. "Because I feel like everybody can do pretty much what I did."

We'd quibble with that assessment. Many ordinary people theoretically can do what Shaw -- and Seaman and Gassama -- did if they possess the selfless instinct, the courage and physical skills. But such exploits are rare for those who aren't first-responders or soldiers or otherwise trained to run toward danger. Nor, thankfully, are most of us tested by events as were these three men.

Their heroism rightly earned each a moment of fame and gratitude.

Gassama, dubbed the Spider-Man of the 18th (district in Paris) met with French President Emmanuel Macron and is to receive documents to live legally in France.

Seaman, released from the hospital Saturday, returned to the cheers and tears of students, teachers and parents.

Shaw has raised over $200,000 to help the Waffle House shooting victims. His alma mater, Tennessee State University, held a ceremony and reception in his honor.

We've often marveled at this brand of citizen heroism. When a sniper rained fire onto a Las Vegas country music festival crowd last year, for instance, strangers shielded others from shrapnel, locals guided concert-goers to escape routes, a man ferried a wounded victim by wheelbarrow.

We recall, too, that when the World Trade Center towers fell, a handful of people risked their lives to save strangers. With the Pentagon ablaze from the terrorist attack, passers-by rushed into the burning building to help.

On that same day, a group of passengers confronted hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, which then crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

What's the connecting thread? Sandy Dahl, the wife of the Flight 93 pilot, nailed it: "Adversity does not build character. Adversity reveals character."

The actions of Gassama, Shaw and Seaman reveal character that merits our accolades -- and our awe.