Heroes Die Without Quitting

I marvel at the stories of ordinary soldiers, mowed down by a crude roadside bomb, who become extraordinary people adapting to a new life and excelling with artificial limbs.
In: Column, Perseverence

May 31, 2011

This weekend America honored our current and former warriors, especially those who have given their lives for the country. Words can express deep appreciation but cannot fill the void left by one precious human life. Still, we must say “Thank you so much!” to the soldier and his or her family. A quick glance at a Wikipedia chart shows staggering numbers of killed and wounded since we were founded. Here is a sampling:

Revolutionary War: 50,000

American Civil War: 646,392

World War I: 320,518

World War II: 1,076,245

Vietnam War: 211,454

Iraq War: 36,395

Note that except when we fought for freedom and when we decided to kill ourselves in a family feud, these wars have been fought far away from home and hearth; our dead staining foreign soil with their blood, spilled to help others. Never has a nation conquered so much only to give it back (and spent so much to rebuild for the vanquished). God has blessed America, and we have blessed the world!

In the recent Iraq war, 4,430 gave the ultimate sacrifice—they battle no more—and we honor their courage and consummate gift and grieve with those left behind. We must never forget the 31,965 wounded, many with extreme injuries. Even as the technology of killing has advanced, so has battlefield medicine. Many who would have died of their wounds in an earlier war have been saved but now live with horrible, debilitating, irreparable damage.

I marvel at the stories of ordinary soldiers, mowed down by a crude roadside bomb, who become extraordinary people adapting to a new life and excelling with artificial limbs. These heroes were real victims but choose to cheerfully become positive, contributing, vibrant members of society. If anyone has an excuse to quit, moan, blame others and live on the dole, it is a once mighty, athletic, super-active young person who, in the prime of life, is cut down to a shadow of his or her former physical self.

But the spirit in true heroes cannot be dominated by bad luck—these amazing people are heroes twice born—they refuse to quit!

Over 99.9% of the current population is pretty lucky for not getting killed or wounded in the Iraq war. Yet I wonder how most of us, myself included, measure up when dealing with bad breaks. I feel most of us would step up to the plate and learn to deal with what we never hoped for or expected. But there is, it seems to me, a growing trend to look to blame others for our misfortunes and use bad things as an excuse to indulge the dark side of human nature: to drink too much or use drugs, to gamble too much, to become lazy, irresponsible, unproductive, and supported by others—in short, to become takers instead of givers.

We can give our children and grandchildren a precious gift if we teach them that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes we make mistakes and reap what we sow; sometimes, it is no one’s fault; sometimes, others cause us harm. The question is not whether bad things will happen but to what degree and, more importantly, how we will deal with them. Will we lie down and give up? Or will we work through our challenges and find a way to productively touch the lives of others? Most of our wounded warriors and their families are true heroes—they would rather die than quit. What about the rest of us?

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