Today, President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to the parents of Pfc Ross McGiness.

When a grenade was thrown into the hatch of his Humvee, McGiness, who was the gunner, chose not to jump out and save his own life, but to jump down and protect his buddies with his body to save them. He died, but the other four lives were saved by his actions.

NYTimes photo at right.

In a day when anti heroes are the norm, and any war news is twisted to make soldiers either sadists or victims, previous medal of honor winners barely made the headlines, so I was glad that both the NYTimes and the LATimes included the story in their papers.

Yet those who don’t go past the headlines will say: Great guy, and then go on, figuring his life has no lesson for anyone else. Alas, there are probably a few people out there who will ridicule his actions, being brought up in a world of cynicism and nihilism where risking one’s life for others is considered dumb. 

So I was happy thatJames Hohman of the LATimes actually went past the hard facts and data to find the motives of  Pfc McGuiness:

A month before, a similar situation had occurred with another convoy. When a grenade landed inside a Humvee, the gunner jumped out, as he had been trained to do. That grenade turned out to be a dud.

“In the days that followed, McGinnis said he didn’t know what he would do,” Buehler said. “I felt the same way. It’s hard to say what you’d do.”

Yes, it is hard to say what any of us would do.

But those of us who have lived in danger know that the choice is made before the action, and the choice is made in the dark night when the demons of fear and confusion gnaw at the soul. What if….what if…One is faced with the worse things that can happen, and one never knows if when the time comes if courage or fear will rule one’s actions. But it is in the darkness of the night that the rehersals for the “What if’s” are done, and the real choice is made.

So in a world where kids are taught to live for oneself, a young man rehearsed in his mind what he should do.

Like Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor, who died when he too shielded his friends from a grenade blast, or like my classmate, Michael Crescenz, who attacked the snipers nest so that the wounded could be rescued, or like the firemen and police who risk their lives every day so that others can live,we have heroism all around us. And once in awhile, we need to pause and spend a moment to recognize that heroes still exist, and to say a prayer for the ones who give their lives so others may live.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind CLinic and Fishmarket.

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