A Real Hero

About five years ago the school where I was teaching celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday in the spring by inviting well-known community members (“Celebrities”) to read to the classrooms.  Schools across the nation participate in similar programs as part of the Read Across America campaign.

In communities like the one where my school was, there were four elementary schools, so competition was fierce to get community celebrities — TV and radio personalities, Grizzlies players, etc.  At both of the schools where I taught, the PTA took care of contacting, scheduling and assigning readers, so the pressure was off the teachers.  It never failed, though.  I was always given a reader that none of my students had ever heard of.  I swear, one year a very sweet old man appeared at my door.  He had been a teacher, a principal, and a past chairman of the school board.  However, none of my kids knew who he was, and as far as being a reader went….well, let’s just say that Grandpaw needed to have his eyes checked.  Bless it.  But the kids adored him and the book was short, so…

However, this particular year (2004) turned out to be quite extraordinary.  I was teaching third grade, and I really liked my class. Oh, they were a good group!  One little girl’s dad happened to be in the Navy and was waiting to take command of an aircraft carrier as the XO.  He was in town, and he was our celebrity reader.

His daughter picked the book she wanted him to read, and he did a masterful job.  Rather than get all tongue-tied, he enlisted the kids’ help and it was a hoot. They immediately loved him!  He had such a way with the kids and they instantly felt that there was no place he would rather be than with them.  For the 45 minutes he spent with us, he gave himself freely to those children.

After he read the book, he talked about how much he liked to read and what kinds of books he enjoyed reading as a youngster.  He told the students that it’s just as important to read their textbooks carefully as it is to read the books they pick out for pleasure, and then he tied it all in to helping them reach their dreams.  

Then he told us about himself and what his job was.  He spoke in words that those 9-year-olds and their 30-something teacher could understand.  He explained how he had become interested in joining the Navy. He explained, in a nutshell, what the military’s job is.  He talked about protecting our country and being part of a peacekeeping force.  And he also touched on the subject of going to war if the need arises.  He was not baiting them, merely stating a fact.

One of the students asked, “You mean like the war we’re in now?”  And he said yes.

Another student raised her hand and said, “I keep hearing people on TV say, ‘The War on Terror,’ but I just don’t really understand what ‘terrorism’ is.  Can you explain it?”

Well, I thought I was going to die right there.  Talk about putting someone on the spot.  But let me tell you what, folks.  This gentleman pulled up a chair for the first time since he’d been in our room and he scooted up close to the children.  He clasped his hands in front of him and looked at them like they were equals.

“Terrorism is when one group of people comes out of nowhere and harms another group who has no way to protect themselves,” he explained.  

“Let’s say that it snows really, really hard.  And I sneak over to your house and hide close to your back door and wait for you to come out. While I wait, I make a big pile of snowballs.  When you come out, I start throwing them at you, one right after another,” he said.  “What do you think of that?”

Hands shot into the air, and he got the expected answers.  That’s not fair.  I don’t have any to throw back. That’s mean.

“That’s terrorism,”  he said.  

The student looked at him and nodded.  “Thanks,” she said.  “I think I get it now.  So if it’s a war or something, the other side actually knows about it, right?  And they get their side ready and you get your side ready and you just, you know, fight it out.”

“I think you DO have it,” he said.

I believe it’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard.  The kids didn’t bombard our guest with questions about war or guns or anything like that, and I completely expected them to.  They weren’t bored or overly serious or bummed out. 

I truly think they realized that standing before them was a real hero.



I don’t know where this man is today, but I pray that he and all who serve in our nation’s armed forces are safe.  For those who enlisted in our military after September 11, 2001, I wish you a safe return home and thank you for your service.

For anyone remembering a loved one, family or friend, who was lost in the attacks on September 11, please know that people have not forgotten, nor will we ever forget that day.  We still remember you in our prayers, and not just once a year, but so very often.




1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. thefarmerfiles
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 02:12:08

    Great post, and prayerfully, someone will thank that soldier for his service today. Kids are amazing. Stop by. I wrote about my 3rd graders, 2001.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: