My little girl brings home reading practice sheets every week. Each day weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re to time her reading the fluency sheet for a minute, three times, the idea being that it will improve her reading. She does get better at reading each time through, naturally, but she also gets pretty bored Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I suppose I would, too, if I had to read the same thing over and over three times a day. But sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also bored because the stories as a whole havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been very interesting. Until last week.
She brought home the story of Butch OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d never given much thought to whom OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare airport was named after. I suppose I assumed it was named after a politician. None of these fluency stories can be read completely in a minuteÃ¢â‚¬â€she was only about a third of the way through when the minute timer dinged. My son, her older brother, was so interested that he looked up from his own homework and said Ã¢â‚¬Å“actually, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty interesting.Ã¢â‚¬Â I agreed, and asked her to keep reading, and she was intrigued enough herself that she kept going without complaint.
Stories about heroes fascinate my family, at the least, and, I believe, humanity as a whole. I think that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve become so cynical that we sneer a little when we hear stories of heroics and imagine that it canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really be true, or we wonder if the hero secretly beats his wife. We are programmed to think that we REALLY need to read stories of ordinary people or cowardly people or despicable people and that stories of heroes are for children. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re savvy enough now not to believe everything we hear or read, because, God knows, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been fooled plenty of times.
But we still need heroes. And Butch OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare was one. In WWII, OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare was a fighter pilot on the aircraft carrier Lexington. No less than three separate patrols had been launched from the Lexington to investigate radar contacts, so that when a fourth popped up there was only OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare and his wingman left to investigate. What they discovered was a flight of nine — count Ã¢â‚¬Ëœem, nine — Japanese fighter bombers (called Betties) en route to the Lexington.
My knowledge of WWII is pretty scant, as itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pre-industrial history thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always fascinated me, so I had to look up entries on these fighter bombers. A few of them would have had enough bombs to sink an aircraft carrier, and here came nine, each manned by a tailgunner as well as boasting regular armaments. OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare had only a little over 140 seconds worth of ammunition in his machine guns. To make things worse, once he and his wingman were airborne and getting ready to engage, the wingman discovered that his guns were jammed. It was OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare alone against the bombers.
He flew up one side of the V formation and then dived under to swoop beneath the other. His shooting was so exact that he completely blew off the fuselage of one of the Betties. One of the LexingtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s other patrols came screaming back when the fight was almost over, and the officer reported seeing three bombers going down in flames at the same time, so rapid and efficient was OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare.
Only three of the bombers got past OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare, and amazingly none of them hit the Lexington. The shipÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s commanding officer said that OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hare might well have saved the entire ship. Even more amazingly, OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢HareÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plane only got hit once. And donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think that these were slow, plodding craft he was fighting. These were dangerous planes. He was just skilled, capable, and lucky. Not to mention heroic.
It brought to mind a preface IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve always liked. Edison Marshall wrote one of my favorite historical novels, Earth Giant, the narrator of whom is none other than Heracles. HeÃ‚Â drafted these words at the end of a short introductory essay:
I feel mystically about heroes, whether Heracles, Arthur, Roland, Ragnar Lothbrok the great Viking, Siegfried, Captain John Smith, John Paul Jones, and some living in the last century or even alive today. It seems to me that the Gods love them, that Olympian lightning plays about their heads, that Chance suspends her dull laws when one of the breed comes nigh, that Fate will meet them more than halfway, that event in ratio to their own greatness is their daily fare as long as their heroism lives.
We need our heroes. We need to know that when the chips are down people can stand up — stories like that of Butch OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢HareÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, or the story of Martin Luther King Jr., or the stories of Brave Horatius, Robin Hood, and heroes appearing within the pages of Black Gate — we need hear and read tales both true and fictional to inspire us to stand up when the chips are down, when someone needs to do something to right a wrong, when someone needs to stand up for the little guy or to protect home, hearth, and comrades.
Who are your heroes, and why?