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.

 

Rocket Girl – The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan

Per the description of the biography called  “Rocket Girl” by George D. Morgan about his mother on the Amazon website: “This is the extraordinary true story of America’s first female rocket scientist, told by her son. It describes Mary Sherman Morgan’s crucial contribution to launching America’s first satellite and the author’s labyrinthine journey to uncover his mother’s lost legacy – a legacy buried deep under a lifetime of secrets political, technological, and personal. Blending a fascinating personal history with dramatic historical events taking place on the world stage, this compelling narrative brings long-overdue attention to a modest but brilliant woman whose work proved essential for America’s early space program. In 1938, a young German rocket enthusiast named Wernher von Braun had dreams of building a rocket that could fly him to the moon.

On the opposite side of the world, a young farm girl named Mary Sherman was attending high school in Ray, North Dakota. In an age when girls rarely dreamed of a career in science, Mary wanted to be a chemist. A decade later the dreams of these two disparate individuals would coalesce in ways neither could have imagined. In a vivid narrative, Morgan relates how World War II and the Cold War space race with the Russians changed the fates of both von Braun and his mother. When von Braun and other top engineers could not find a solution to the repeated failures that plagued the nascent US rocket program, North American Aviation, where Mary Sherman Morgan then worked, was given the challenge. Recognizing her talent for chemistry, company management turned the assignment over to young Mary.

In the end, America succeeded in launching rockets into space, but only because of the joint efforts of the brilliant farm girl from North Dakota and the famous German scientist. While von Braun went on to become a high-profile figure in NASA’s manned space flight, Mary Sherman Morgan and her contributions fell into obscurity.” You can see more about the book with the following link:

http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Girl-Sherman-Americas-Scientist/dp/1616147393

I learned of Mary Sherman Morgan the other day while watching PBS Newshour. They interviewed her son George about his book about his mother, the rocket scientist. Many things strike me about this story. First, her talent could not be restrained by the social limitations of the day. She succeeded in spite of being the “only woman in the room” on almost every occasion. To do what she did with the constant push back, both verbally and non-verbally, speaks volumes of both her ability and character. Whether due to race, ethnicity or gender, to always be the lone different one in a group of people, takes some chutzpah to succeed that many don’t have.

Second, she was an unassuming woman. Her family and friends had little, if any, understanding of the huge role she played in the US space program. She did not wish to be in the limelight and because of her gender, no one pushed her into it. So, others took her portion of the credit for the glory and she was OK by that. Her son wrote this book to tell the real story. He had to do a lot of digging. His mom made a difference and others need to know about it what she did.

I am a father of three, with my daughter the youngest at age 16. I want every opportunity for her and do not want anyone to limit her because of her gender. That is grossly unfair to her and society. Unfortunately, women do not get these opportunities in many places around the globe. I have said often, on top of the gross unfairness, it is economically suicidal for a country to limit the opportunities of at least half of its intellectual capital. What if they have a Mary Sherman Morgan in their midst, but deny her educational opportunity? They would never realize the potential of her ability.

This is why it so important for all of us to push and keep pushing for equal opportunity. It is imperative that all people be treated with dignity and be in a safe and secure environment. I personally do not care what religion you follow, but if your group’s interpretation of your scripture puts down women and treats them like possessions, then either you need to get a better interpretation or maybe find a new religion. Social justice is a moral imperative. We must treat all with respect and just because you’re a man, does not mean you should get more than your fair share.

To flourish, we need more Mary Sherman Morgans in our world. If we have them and let them be successful, our world will be a better place. You go, Rocket Girl!