An elaboration on an earlier post in response to some comments: It cheapens the term “hero” to apply it casually, something I see happening all too frequently. For example, everyone who got killed in 9/11 wasn’t a hero. Firefighters who went into the buildings in order to save the lives of others, knowing they could themselves die, are heroes. Accountants who got blown up in the WTC, unless they died trying to save someone else or otherwise distinguished themselves, are victims not a heroes.
Similarly, most soldiers aren’t heroes. Can a supply clerk be a hero? Sure. But most aren’t. They play a vital part in the war effort, deserve a pat on the back for a job well done, etc. But unless they are going above and beyond the call of duty in some way, and at least operating under fire, they aren’t heroes in the same way as Navy SEALS, Rangers, and Special Forces troops who staged the daring rescue of PFC Jessica Lynch.
In Desert Storm, I was an artillery platoon leader. I even got a Bronze Star out of it. Was I a hero? No. While my platoon put lots of rockets on the enemy, and presumably played some small part in our winning the war, I never came under enemy fire. Not being a hero isn’t the same as being a coward; but it isn’t the default position, either.
Yes, our soldiers have volunteered for service and thus the risk of being sent to combat. Some do it to “serve their country.” Others do it for mundane reasons–money for college, it pays better than other jobs they’re qualified for, a pension after 20 years, a chance to travel, a desire for adventure, or whatever. But if that’s enough to earn the title “hero,” then it is an almost meaningless term. And what do we then call the relative few among that vast group of heroes who show exceptional bravery in combat?