Courage comes from unexpected sources

Watching the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” for a second time serves as a reminder that you should not underestimate people. The movie reflects the true story of a conscientious objector in World War II who was awarded the Medal of Honor, even though he refused to pick up a weapon.

Desmond Doss enlisted to become a medic, but was almost court martialed for refusing to use his rifle. He was deemed a coward. After his case was dismissed, he went with his fellow troops to Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa, a devil of a place where many Americans died. Doss was able to save over 75 wounded Americans, many left for dead, risking his own life. His mantra was “God, let me get one more.”

His courage astounded his fellow troops, some of whom had deemed him a coward before. This speaks volumes to me as courage is not often exhibited by the rah-rah type or the John Wayne like hero. It is the quiet strength to do something, whether it is death defying or standing up for a cause against a tide of popular opinion.

Senator John McCain is a true hero as he survived torture and stood strong with his fellow prisoners to overcome his North Vietnamese captors. In spite of a now-President, who never served, saying McCain was not a hero because he was captured, he was indeed one. And, McCain continues to show his courage throughout his career standing up with unpopular, but morally right opinions.

Former Virginia Senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb is one of these people. Admittedly not perfect, he wrote an OpEd piece in 2002 saying if the US invades Iraq, we better be prepared to remain there 30 to 50 years. He said we need to ask questions such as will this help us diminish terrorism and what will this do to our role in other parts of the world? His position was unpopular, but he was dead on accurate in hindsight. But, even at the time he was posing questions that needed better answers.

Courage is more often exhibited by quiet strength. Some of the most courageous people are women. Female mathematicians who made a difference, like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, the African-American women portrayed in “Hidden Figures,” fought huge uphill battles. Margaret Thatcher, Shirley Chisolm, Rosa Parks, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Gloria Steinem et al all had heavy doses of courage to overcome obstacles.

Mary Sherman Morgan, the first female rocket scientist, is also one of those people. In 1957, she invented a rocket fuel that powered the first Explorer rocket. She noted she was always the only female in her science and math classes, which was intimidating, but her courage helped her persevere.

Maybe that is the appropriate word for having inner strength to “persevere.” So, rather than beat on your chest, just suck it up, do your job, follow your conscience and persevere.


15 thoughts on “Courage comes from unexpected sources

  1. What an excellent post, Keith!!! It takes far more courage to do what Desmond Doss did than to pick up a rifle and start shooting. I believe we all need to redefine the word ‘hero’ … to many think of sports figures as their heroes, when really, they are basically being paid much money for doing what they love anyway. It is the people like McCain, Webb, and the others you mentioned who we should be looking up to. Thanks for this beautiful post!

    • Jill, thanks for your additions. Some people do things because they feel obligated to do so. The second half of this movie is hard to watch because of the insanity of taking a piece of land at the cost of thousands of lives.

      Adding the sports heroes is good. I have had many sports heroes in my life, but are they real heroes in everyday life? Former basketball star Charles Barkley made this very point – the real heroes are your parents and teachers.

      Even in sport, the more courageous stories are those where someone overcomes adversity – a terrible injury, a difficult upbringing, a humiliating loss. Thanks, Keith

  2. We sure could use more heroes who exhibit character and true courage, like the ones you mention in this post. Thank you for celebrating them. Someone should tell Trump that heroes are in a separate class from mere “winners.”

  3. A wise and salutary post Keith, speaking up for the quiet ordinary, determined folk. Made all the more interesting for me in that our younger daughter bought us both films as birthday presents! (Sheila’s the 19th July mine is the 20th July).
    I’ve just finished watching Hacksaw Ridge and nodded my head constantly through reading your post. The film was an incredible homage to that quiet courage, made all the more moving by showing the flaws, fear and doubts of the man; this is where true heroism resides
    The incumbent (these days I do not dignify the fellow with a name or a title) incurred my anger with his display of crass idiocy in his comments on John McCain’s Vietnam War record. Were these the words of a man expert in the skills of Air Combat of the 1960s or Survival and Avoidance techniques? No, they were those of a bloated fool who only resides in the Whitehouse through the quirks of democracy. There is much a do not agree with John McCain over, but the man has courage and now faces yet another battle, with no sign of giving up.
    Thank you for reminding us Keith.

    • Roger, many thanks. My favorite part of the movie is when his disturbed father went to bat for him all dressed up in his WWI uniform.

      As for McCsin, I agree with your assessment that we need not agree with everything he says, but can admire his courage.

      Trump is the opposite of a profile in courage. Keith

      • Yes that was a very moving part; battered, humbled but still loving his son. I loved the ‘Just One More God’ prayer too
        As for the person currently in The Whitehouse, you have, as always, my sympathies.
        Best wishes to you and your Keith

      • Roger, you should check out Jill’s post on our incumbent President’s poor form in front of hundreds of Boy Scouts at a Jamboree. Not exactly the example we want for our children. Keith

    • Linda, the war scenes are pretty brutal, but they are the last 1/3 of the movie. My wife watched it with me the second time and made it through. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: When I think of quiet courage, I think of two American heroes whose heroics were captured in the book and movie “The Right Stuff.” Former astronaut and Senator John Glenn is the first. Knowing that the rocket beneath you might explode is courage enough, but returning to earth with a defective heat shield held on by a strap also was brave.

    The other is Chuck Yeager, our greatest test pilot. He set many speed records and was cool, even sell effacing under pressure. No pilot was more prepared than Yeager who studied his planes. He found out why one place was killing too many pilots, as a bolt was installed the wrong way on the wings. He was such a good pilot, during WW II, in test battles, he would win in an inferior airplane.

    Thinking of these two quiet heroes also reminds me of Sully Sullenberger, who landed the bird disabled plane on the Hudson River. Like Yeager, he studied airplanes and crashes. He knew what he needed to do to land a jet safely on water, even though it is very delicate.

    All exhibited quiet courage.

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