The Home of the Brave

by Chris Stansbury

The label of hero is too often times placed upon a great baseball player like Boston’s David Ortiz every time he drives in a game winning run.  Or those who say Tom Brady won the Super Bowl, he is my role model.  Or, it takes real courage for Steve Smith to catch a pass across the middle knowing he’s going to get hit.  And, while each should be acknowledged for their clutch hitting, clean lifestyle or so-called courage, they are athletes.  Athletes, with God-given talent, getting paid millions of dollars to play a game.
When I think of a hero, I think of the passerby who jumped into a river in Alaska to pull a woman and her five month old baby out of a sinking car.
I think of my recent visit to Sgt. Barnes and the United States Marines in the Wounded Warrior barracks at Camp Lejeune.  They are barely 20 years old, and some are still teenagers, dealing with severe burns, paralysis, and lost limbs after serving their country COURAGEOUSLY in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Closer to home, I have no higher respect than for the men and women serving in our local police departments and fire departments.  I can tell you, for a fact, not one single police officer or firefighter chose their career to make money.  They are my role models and my heroes.
Following the September 11th attacks on America, the sports world came to a halt.  No football, baseball or racing.  As a matter of fact, the entire world watched in horror.  Everyone, that is, except for the firefighters and police officers who’s first instinct was to get to Ground Zero and help.  For several months, they were revered.  Our men and women defending our freedom abroad were idolized.  It’s now been five years since 9/11 and threats of future danger rear its ugly head everyday.  Yet, some still look to the sports world for their child’s role models. 
And with statements like this, how can you blame them.
“Like a thousand runaway trains speeding toward me.  Like a herd of wild beasts.  Like the thunder fall of a rock slide.  Hard to put into words, but whatever in the hell it was, it was gaining speed, and gathering force and getting closer and I was unable to get out of its path.”
Wait!!!!  This was not a quote from an NFL defensive back awaiting Jerome Bettis, John Riggins, or even the great Jim Brown.  On the contrary, New York Battalion Commander Richard Piccioto wrote this in his book “Last Man Out.”  It describes his unimaginable fear of being on the 35th floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center and hearing the South Tower collapse.  He ordered the immediate evacuation of the North Tower, saving hundreds of lives in the process.  Piccioto probably knew in the back of his mind the North Tower too would fall, but he and a group of fire fighters stayed behind to help more than 50 disabled and infirmed people to safety.  The North Tower did collapse.  They were still inside.  He and his team were buried for more than four hours in a small portion of a stairway that somehow didn’t fall.  Every person Piccioto and his team stayed back to rescue escaped the tragedy that had befallen nearly 3,000 others. 
“…..the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  They are words belted out before every sporting event, but believe me, they are not referring to the athletes gearing up to play.

Chris Stansbury