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Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined

Title Page >> Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Afterword | Message Board

PART TWO: "There Are Heroes Among Us" (April 5, 1995)

We're talking about heroes, continuing a discussion we began last week in this space. Specifically, we were talking about the sorry state of super-heroes in today's comic books as publishers, editors, writers, and artists emphasize despair and rage over the hope and wonder the characters once reflected.

To be fair, perhaps the publishers and the rest believe they are holding up a mirror to the world around them. That it can be a bleak world is not something I can easily dispute as I sit mere miles and fewer days from a tragic situation in which hundreds of police officers were unable, despite a 45-hour stand-off, to save a 9-year-old boy from death at the hand of the demented father he dearly loved. There is a darkness to our lives.

But, like the broken mirror whose missing pieces leave holes in our perception, like the fun-house attraction that presents us with a distorted image of whatever stands before it, their mirror does not reveal the whole of our world. There is a brightness to our lives as well.

For even in these most cynical of times, there is courage in our world. There is generosity of spirit. There is hope.

There are heroes among us.

******

Chicago. A gunman bursts into the Woodson North Elementary School gym and starts shooting. Teacher Clarence Notree, head of an after-school basketball program, runs to the children, some of them as young as 8, spreads out his arms, and gets them to safety as a bullet crashes through his right wrist. Notree will lose 20 percent of the use of the wrist.

"Every one of those kids was being helped through the door, and it was Notree who, by being the last one, was shot," said one of the teacher's co-workers. "He was shielding them."

******

Centreville, Virginia. Kevin Tupper sees a single-paragraph message on a computer bulletin board and realizes he is reading a suicide note. Tupper tracks down the author of the note and then notifies police in Miami County, Indiana. Authorities there find the distraught man at his home, where he is attempting suicide by breathing carbon monoxide fumes.

"I've never seen a rescue done from hundreds of miles away," said the deputy who dragged the man from a gas-choked garage. "A guy on his computer saves another man he's never met...in another state. I'm still not sure how it worked."

******

Gardelegen, Germany. In the weeks after World War II, Staff Sgt. Glenn Schroeder smuggles some Spam and other surplus rations past the MPs to a hungry girl and her family. Fifty years later, his kindness is repaid when he needs it the most.

Waltraud Zobel Kalusa, who is 63 and a grandmother of three, started writing to her benefactor shortly after the reunification of Germany. It's a time when Schroeder needs friends.

He lost his wife and only love on his birthday in 1985. His health is failing; he has emphysema and heart problems. He still has nightmares, fifty years later, of the war.

Kalusa's first postcard, sent to an address he had given the woman's parents in 1945, arrived as Schroeder had began to wonder if life was worth living. The memory of an ancient kindness gave the Elyria, Ohio resident his answer.

For two years now, Schroeder and Kalusa have been exchanging monthly letters and the occasional phone call. They hope to have a reunion in Elyria this year, the 50th anniversary of that long-ago meeting in Gardelegen.

When asked why he disobeyed orders against fraternizing with townsfolk to help Kalusa and her family, Schroeder's response was self-effacing.

"There had been so damn much hatred," he said, "that it gave you courage. Then, suddenly, there was no more war to fear. You didn't have to crawl anymore. Finally it wasn't even too hard to smile. I think every GI probably did the same thing for somebody somewhere along the way."

******

Toledo, Ohio. Retired air traffic controller Louis Streb is a man who believes in dreams. One such dream, shared by his late wife Betty, was to see that each of their six children received a college education. The Strebs accomplished that goal without any financial aid whatsoever.

Late last year, Streb fulfilled another dream: he earned his own college degree. He graduated with honors from the University of Toledo with a bachelor's degree in history.

"We're really proud of him," said son Dan Streb. "He's such an intelligent man. I have met some highly intelligent people in the MBA program, but I'd put Dad up against any of them."

******

Detroit, Michigan. Deborah Kemp is dragged on her knees for a quarter-mile by a man attempting to steal her car. Her 6-year-old daughter is inside the car. As the vehicle moves, Kemp grabs the door and the steering wheel. She pulls The Club, a steering-wheel lock from under the front seat and beats the carjacker with it until he pleads for mercy. The car crashes into a restaurant. Kemp's daughter is unharmed.

******

Washington State. Bruce Gibson, a real-estate appraiser, is 49 when he dies after several surgeries and painful chemotherapy. Roy Rogers was his idol; "Happy Trails" was his theme song. "When I die," he had told his wife Beverly, "skip the urn and keep my ashes in a Roy Rogers lunch box."

On the day Gibson died, the Seattle Times ran a first-person article about a reporter growing up with Roy Rogers and the bunch at the Double R Bar Ranch, at the movies and on TV. At his wake, Gibson's friends talked about the article and told Beverly they'd be on the lookout for the lunch box.

Beverly Gibson wrote to tell the Times how much this article meant to her and that she was looking for a Roy Rogers lunch box. Randee Fox, an artist with the Times, saw the letter and called a friend. The friend called Richard Denner, owner of the Fourwinds Bookstore and Cafe in Ellensburg, Washington.

Denner had a Roy Rogers/Dale Evans Chow Wagon lunch box on a shelf in his store. He'd gotten it from his mother-in-law twenty years earlier. As soon as Denner heard about Gibson's last wish, he sent the lunch box to Gibson's widow.

******

New York. The 20-year-life of Raymond Dunn, Jr. was defined by suffering. Born with a broken skull and a brain that had been deprived of oxygen, Dunn couldn't walk or talk. He had two dozen seizures a day. He slept three hours a night. Asthma made every breath a struggle. He moved only with assistance and he saw only shadows. The one thing he could do was inspire compassion, love, and, yes, heroism from those around him.

His parents dedicated their lives to him. Strangers offered their help. And a corporation kept him alive.

Dunn was known as the "Gerber Boy" because the only food his system could tolerate was a brownish liquid called MBF (for meat-based formula). Gerber had stopped making MBF in 1985. By 1985, the Dunns had hunted down every last can they could find. Gerber had exhausted its backlog as well.

In 1990, after Dunn's doctors said he would die without MBF, Gerber research division volunteers retooled to resume production of the product. They put their own projects on hold, refurbished old equipment, and devoted thousands of square feet and many days of their own time to making MBF for Dunn. Whenever Dunn finished a batch, they made more. When he died this January, he still had a year's supply.

The Dunns and their legion of helpers, many of whom had been inspired by newspaper stories of Gerber's generosity, were always at Raymond's side. They caressed him constantly, fed him several times a day, and brushed his teeth after each meal.

At his birth, Raymond was not expected to live one year. He fought his death right up to the end. "He wanted so much to stay with us," his mother said, adding, "I'm proud he was my son. I'm grateful for that honor. I wouldn't have traded it."

******

There is darkness in our world. There is light. Comic-book publishers and editors, writers and artist, have a responsibility to hold up a mirror to our world. And, if they hold their mirror up high enough, it will surely catch the light.

That light is the stuff super-heroes are made on. It's time we started remembering that. And, if we lack for inspiration, we can always look at the images in our mirrors.

Given that, how can anyone *not* believe in heroes?

We'll meet more of them next week.

Tony Isabella

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board.

    Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined

    Introduction
    "My Back Pages" (September 22, 2001)

    Part One
    "My Heroes Have Always Been Heroes" (March 24, 1995)

    Part Two
    "There Are Heroes Among Us" (April 5, 1995)

    Part Three
    "Heroes and Hope" (April 10, 1995)

    Part Four
    "Crisis of Faith" (April 19, 1995)

    Part Five
    "Oklahoma City" (April 26, 1995)

    Part Six
    "Making It Right" (May 16, 1995)

    Part Seven
    "Columbine High School" (May 4, 1999)

    Afterword
    "Unfinished Business" (September 23, 2001)

Title Page >> Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Afterword | Message Board





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