In the mode of the day, just about anyone is a hero, no matter what. You might be one by someone’s definition. Or so might I. A heavy hitter in baseball might be called a hero. Someone highly admired for good works in the community might be called a hero. Entire classes of people — soldiers, policemen, teachers, parents — might be called heroes. It seems we live in an age of heroes. Just as all children are special these days, so is everyone a hero.
Yet, “hero” has a specific meaning:
A hero (masculine or gender-neutral) or heroine (feminine) (Ancient Greek: ἥρως, hḗrōs) is a person or character who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage, bravery or self-sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good; a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Historically, the first heroes displayed courage or excellence as warriors. The word’s meaning was later extended to include moral excellence.
So says the Wikipedia entry for “hero”.
When I was in the US Army in Germany, I rolled this Jeep while returning from a photo shoot. I was absolved of responsibility (ultimately) but the accident was a perfect storm of poor vehicle design, inexperienced driver, and road conditions.
This particular model Jeep was notorious for tipping over. We had a trailer attached to carry our field gear, which further destabilized the Jeep and was my first time driving with a trailer. We ran into road construction and an international road sign I recognized too late to mean “merge left”. I merged into a German Ford.
I had a passenger with me. Somehow, when I rolled that Jeep onto its top, the gasoline cap came off the gas tank. On a military Jeep, the gas tank is under the driver’s seat…! I was doused in gasoline. I don’t remember if my passenger was, too. With all that gasoline leaked over the Jeep and me, a spark would have toasted us both regardless. Germans gathered at the side of the Autobahn to take in the accident, curious for blood I suppose. Some were smoking cigarettes a short distance from me, this guy reeking of gasoline!
It is a well-known phenomenon that even brave and heroic soldiers occasionally crap themselves in those combat circumstances that define them as brave and heroic…. My passenger and I can’t even claim that, yet I remember us being proclaimed heroes for surviving this accident. What a crock! We were just darn lucky. Heroism had nothing to do with it.