Rather than look back at the top stories of 2013, let’s discuss a few people who made news because of their heroism. In some cases the heroism was a body of work, accumulated over many years and often resulting in greater good; for others a single, unexpected event brought out their courage.
The best example of the former was Nelson Mandela, who died Dec. 5 at age 95. His imprisonment in 1964 became symbolic of the long struggle for equality for blacks in his native South Africa. After he was finally released, he became a leader of a democratic government and an inspiration to people all over the world.
An American civil rights pioneer, Jackie Robinson, has been dead since 1972. But his efforts to break the color line in baseball gained new understanding with the release in 2013 of a new movie, “42,” showing what he went through,
Two of my own favorites also passed on in 2013. One known well by baseball fans was Stan “The Man” Musial, who excelled on the field and as a role model for young fans. He died Jan. 19 at age 92, two years after being presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The other, not so well known, was a special friend of anyone in Arkansas interested in good government. Robert McCord, a journalist from age 12 until Alzheimer’s finally silenced his voice, was instrumental in writing, enacting and defending the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. The 1967 law brought public officials out from behind closed doors and gave citizens access to public documents for the first time in history. Bob died April 13.
Without that law the 2013 accomplishments of two other heroes of good government would have been impossible. Bob Hester of Jonesboro used public campaign reports to shed light on illegal campaign fund expenditures by state Sen. Paul Bookout, also of Jonesboro, who eventually resigned after an adverse state Ethics Commission investigation.
From the opposite end of the political spectrum, liberal blogger Matt Campbell of Little Rock used the fruits of a FOIA search to prove to the Ethics Commission that Lt. Gov. Mark Darr had improperly spent more than $44,000 in campaign and public expense account money. Darr hasn’t resigned yet, but surely it’s just a matter of time because a state audit also showed questionable financial practices.
Both Hester and Campbell acted for political purposes but proved the importance of shedding light on politics and government.
In October an American military hero received a Medal of Honor. Former U.S. Army Capt. Will Swenson was recognized for his actions in leading troops through a seven-hour firefight to rescue and recover fallen comrades during a 2009 Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. The Pentagon estimated that Swenson saved at least 12 lives during the battle, but a close friend, shot in the neck, died about a month later.
Also displaying great courage was young Malala Yousafsai, a Pakistani girl now 16 who recovered from being shot in the head and neck in a Taliban assassination attempt in October 2012. Her perceived wrongdoing? Attending school. But the teen-ager recovered and, despite continuing threats, began again to speak out for the right to an education for girls. Her book, “I Am Malala,” released in October, is a best seller worldwide.
Circumstances sometimes create heroes, and most of us would like to think we’d have the courage to do what’s right at such times. But we don’t really know until that time.
For Antoinette Tuff, an elementary school bookkeeper in Decatur, Ga., the time came when a man carrying an AK-47 and almost 500 rounds of ammunition entered the school. Another bloodbath could have resulted, but Tuff engaged the gunman in a conversation and talked him into surrendering without anyone getting hurt.
Charles Ramsey’s time came when he heard screaming next door to his Cleveland home. He investigated and found Amanda Berry, a woman missing for 10 years, and a child. That day two other women who had been held in bondage were also freed. The man who had kidnapped, raped and imprisoned them, Ariel Castro, was convicted and imprisoned, then hung himself.
Several people showed great courage after the Boston Marathon bombing in April. Carlos Arrendondo, a Red Cross volunteer, came to the aid of a man whose legs had been blown off and saved his life. Jeff Bauman, a spectator, saw one of the two bombers and provided police with a description that led to one being killed and the other captured.
So many others stepped up to save lives in tragic accidents or events that it’s impossible to mention but a few.
One heart-warming story is that of a California dad who plunged into the icy East River of New York and saved his 2-year-old daughter.
Another was a Tampa, Fla., policeman who rescued an unconscious pilot from a burning plane.
And a good Samaritan saved comedy legend Dick Van Dyke after his car crashed and caught fire.
Perhaps the best to end on is the story of a Columbus, Ga., resident who helped five adults and two children escape a burning house, then went back in to try to salvage his beer but only managed to get a couple of cans.
Happy new year.
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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.