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They walk among us: what does your child know about real-life heroes?

Grace stands with her Operation Red Wings report
Grace stands with her Operation Red Wings report
Photo by: Katherine Ainsworth

Our Hollywood hero is doing laps around a racetrack when the villain appears, and the battle is on. And just when movie-goers are catching their collective breaths, expecting the worst, the hero’s love interest – who, yes, has found her way onto the racetrack – slides him his red-sided briefcase. With a downward flip of his foot, the briefcase begins to open, revealing it is not a briefcase at all, but the high-tech suit used to transform him into a comic-book legend. Thanks to computer technology, the audience watches in awe as the red and gold suit encases his body, and he becomes Iron Man. And the day is – eventually – saved.

The Iron Man trilogy, which is on its way to a fourth blockbuster, is a multi-billion dollar money maker, and that’s just in ticket sales. The Avengers made nearly $400 million in its first ten days in theaters. Farther down the money-making list is Captain America, although the most recent release of The Winter Soldier did gross $302 million in ten days worldwide. No matter how bad the economy gets, Americans will flock to the movies. And, perhaps as a partial sign of the current times, people seem to be looking for some sign of heroes out there, someone who will save and protect them from whatever danger may lurk around the next dark corner. As Joan Jett once crooned, everybody needs a hero.

"The point is not how long you live, but how nobly you live." Seneca

Asking children what their idea of a hero is gets mixed yet somehow uniform replies. The cries of “Iron Man,” “The Hulk,” and “Superman” have been repeated ad nauseam by boys with a few football players and WWE wrestlers for variety. Girls also list comic-book-turned-big-screen heroes while also adding singers like Justin Bieber and One Direction along with apparently hot teen actors such as Josh Hutcherson from the Hunger Games and, of course, Taylor Lautner from the Twilight saga. Apparently the upcoming generation thinks men in spandex or super-charged iron suits are what a hero is made of, with the runner-ups being scripted wrestlers and baby-faced teenage movie stars. This does, of course, run deeper than the children of today, because it is their parents who either do or not teach them what a hero is. Walking up to a woman in the grocery store and posing the question garnered the reply of “That guy who plays Thor! Man is a hunk!”

And yet there are some children who should give us hope for America’s future. In Louisiana, six-year-old Charlie did not hesitate before replying his older brother Ran, who is currently serving in the Army National Guard, is his hero. He quickly added all soldiers are his heroes, making his mom proud and bringing a sense of relief to this writer that perhaps not all hope is lost. Charlie is a firm supporter of his brother, attending support-our-troops events and rallies with his mom and proudly holding Ran’s photo and an American flag at every available opportunity. Boys like Charlie do exist, although they are far more few and far between than in generations past; there is one boy out of perhaps forty-five in the fifth grade at the local elementary school who wears a long-sleeved digicam shirt to school every day and once rather quietly announced it’s because he desperately hopes to join the service when he grows up.

Girls today are even less likely to recognize true heroism, perhaps because the focus on feminism and liberation has gotten so out of control as to be preposterous. But there was one girl of the group, an 11-year-old named Grace, who was adamant in her belief that true heroes are found in the military. This past school year, her class was instructed to write a report on their hero, hopefully someone who had somehow changed and improved the world. Out of more than seventy 10-and-11-year-olds, only one detailed the sacrifice of a military member, and it was Grace. She read the book Lone Survivor cover to cover, created a detailed trifold explaining Operation Red Wings, and gave an oral report greater in length than any other student’s – and was peppered by questions from her fellow students at such an astonishing rate even the teachers seemed surprised. This last weekend in June, 2014, is the ninth anniversary of Operation Red Wings.

In honor of the sacrifice made by nineteen men nine years ago, Grace has written a summary of the events that took place nearly a decade ago, and why she feels it is of vital importance for her peers:

"Operation Red Wings began when four SEALs went to find terrorist Ahmad Shah. On June 28, 2005, four SEALS named Michael P. Murphy, Matthew G. Axelson, Danny P. Dietz, and Marcus Luttrell were sent on the mission. They went into hiding, and the next day group of men living in a village nearby came up to the mountains with their goats. They were talking to the Taliban through a radio and the SEALS captured them and tried to figure out what to do. They had to decide to let them go or kill them. They chose to let them go. Marcus gave the youngest boy an energy bar and the boy just scowled at him.

The four SEALS moved to a different location in the mountains only to still be found by the Taliban. While running from the Taliban they fell down several hills and cliffs but somehow Marcus’ gun stayed with him the whole time. They suffered many injuries like broken bones, and severe cuts. Mikey got a wound in his stomach from being shot during a fall. Axe and Danny were found soon after but they plummeted down another cliff. They all were firing up at the Taliban when they were not falling; Mikey and Danny were both bleeding heavily. Danny and Marcus were working together with Marcus carrying Danny at the end. Danny got shot in the head and he died in Marcus’ arms.

Marcus, Axe, and Mikey headed to flat ground. When they were on flat ground Mikey went out into an open field on a hill with a phone and called HQ while shots were being fired around him “My men are taking heavy fire…we’re getting picked apart. My guys are dying out here… we need help”. Right there Mikey was shot in the back, fell to his knees and dropped the phone. He braced himself and picked up the phone again and said “Roger that, sir. Thank you”. He staggered back to original position. He began fighting again. They repositioned around boulders and continued fire. Suddenly Mikey called out “Help me, Marcus! Please, help me!” Marcus tried to find a way to get to Mikey but there was no way to get to him without dying on the way there. Mikey screamed for a few seconds, but it stopped. Mikey had died.

Marcus and Axe fought even though they were crawling, bleeding out, and suffering many broken bones. Marcus was pulling Axe, but Axe was still firing rounds. The Taliban threw a grenade and separated Axe and Marcus by thousands of feet. Axe died soon after, but Marcus survived and still lives today.

Marcus was taken in by a few people in a village that found him. He was fed and given water; they stopped the bleeding and the children in the village came to him and talked and played with him every day. Soon a helicopter came and brought him back to the US. When he was in a hospital he was told that 16 other men died in a helicopter that the Taliban shot down as they were trying to help him.

I think it is very important that kids should know about these honorable men that served. Many don’t, the ones that do only know because I did a report on it in front of my class. Or they saw the movie and probably thought it was some action movie, and not everything in the movie is true! Most of the kids I’ve asked about Operation Red Wings have no idea at all! If I ask them about almost any war they don’t understand nearly how many men and women died in past wars or what they did and why.

Children and teens are obsessing over superheroes like Captain America, Hulk, and Iron man when they have no idea who the real Heroes are! If I asked a friend of mine “Do you know of any the military men who died in the past week?” the response would most likely be a blank face. On 9-11 I asked kids what they thought it was and I got things like “It’s when America fought back!” and only a few people knew what happened.

In my school we all had to do a report on someone who changed the world and made a difference. I did my report on Marcus Luttrell and kids in my class did it on football players, authors like Dr. Seuss, singers, and movie stars. I think students of all ages should know about the men that served, I hope you think the same. These men died in Operation Red Wings: LT Michael P. Murphy, STG2 Matthew Axelson, GM2 Danny Dietz, FCC Jacques J. Fontan, ITCS Daniel R. Healy, LCDR Erik S. Kristensen, ET1 Jeffery A. Lucas, LT Michael M. McGreevy, Jr., QM2 James E. Suh, HM1 Jeffrey S. Taylor, MM2 Shane E. Patton, Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature, Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles, Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III, Maj. Stephen C. Reich., Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell, and Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach. Those men are the real heroes, without them we would not have our country. Without Hulk we would not have an extra movie to watch. Most kids don’t know that."

“Heroes are made in the hour of defeat. Success is, therefore, well described as a series of glorious defeats." Mahatma Ghandi

Are you a parent? A grandparent? A godparent? Whether or not you realize it, if you have any contact whatsoever with today’s young, impressionable generation, you’re leaving a mark. Even brief interactions can be emblazoned forever; children and teens alike absorb more from their surroundings than many adults understand. In Grace’s school report, she included and spoke about a service member in her life she respects and sees, as she told her class, as a “real-life Captain America.” Her peers asked about the man she knew just as much, if not more than, those in her report. There are heroes all around you; you simply have to keep your eyes open. Have you raised your child to show respect and gratitude to our many service members? It’s a simple thing to approach men wearing baseball hats clearly stating their service and offer your genuine appreciation. How hard is it, really, to pause on your way to picking up a gallon of milk to look them in the eye, shake their hand, and say thank you?

In the coming days, we remember the loss of nineteen lives during Operation Red Wings, and we are grateful for the survival of real-life hero Marcus Luttrell. An alarming number of children – and adults – know the story only as one portrayed by Mark Wahlberg. Mark Wahlberg, who said in Universal Studio’s production notes “The act of heroism by Gulab and his fellow villagers moved me the most. I found it so inspiring, and it gave me so much hope for the world.” Really? The actions of the villagers trumped the balls-to-the-wall heroism of the SEALs? Yes, Wahlberg has stood up for and defended members of the military on some occasions, including the memorable moment where he replied to a fellow actor’s assertion that acting was like fighting in Afghanistan with “How f—king dare you!” Sometimes, it seems Wahlberg’s time spent around Luttrell during the making of Lone Survivor drove a few important points home, and others, it seems, not so much. Point being, even a grown man who has spent a large amount of time in the presence of an American hero doesn’t seem to get it. What does that mean for America?

“As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.” Ernest Hemingway

Take a moment to consider your actions. Heroism can be found in the strangest places, and in the most unexpected events. But it is found in our military far more often than the average American seems to realize. Real heroes are men like SEALs Lt. Michael Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Axelson, and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, although Luttrell would argue he is not a hero; the men who died on that mountain in the Hindu Kush nine years ago are the real heroes. Take the time to educate someone about Operation Red Wings. Take the time to ensure the memories of these great men live on in the hearts and minds of our children, and our children’s children. For just one moment, stand in silence, and send your thanks for their sacrifice heavenward. Because real heroes aren’t found in movie theaters; real heroes really do wear dog tags.

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson

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