Heroes Are Relative

Our schools these days seem to be intent on taking turns calling each and every child a hero whenever they do anything that has even the slightest hint of righteousness about it. Every child is not a hero. Some of the ones who are tagged a hero in the assemblies have never done the first thing to deserve it. It is misguided and selfish for parents to want this for their children.


The modern day tendency is to look for opportunities to call children heroes until they do something terribly wrong. I suppose that the line of thinking is, if you let someone believe that they are heroes, maybe they will one day rise to the occasion. More likely, some of these same children will just be terribly disappointed the first time they actually get out in the real world and do something courageous and are not applauded for it. Should actions that are a part of simply looking out for one’s own well-being really constitute an act of heroism? Not in my mind. Just because a child is brave enough to “just say no” to drugs, does that make him a hero? I think not.

One of the things I despise about all this feel-good, politically correct line of thinking that most people are expected to toe these days, is how it diminishes the power of certain words. Hero is one of them.

Real heroes are few and far between, and for good reason. Heroism, in my definition, is the act of consciously laying your life on the line for a selfless goal. This is not something that many people are willing to do.

Sometimes our same system turns it around and views the true heroes as suspect. I have an ancestor in my family tree that fits the definition of hero as our Federal Government defined it in the latter part of the 19th century. Patton G. Whited won a Congressional Medal of Honor in the Indian Wars of the 1800’s for “Gallantry in Action” at the battle of Cedar Creek in the Montana Territory. The acts of bravery that he was rewarded for occurred just a few short months after the Massacre of Custer’s Army at the Little Big Horn. The battles Patton Whited fought in were near Little Big Horn. While some of the campaigns that Patton participated in were likely in retribution for Custer’s defeat, there is no questioning the fact that he literally risked life and limb in executing the job that he was told to do. He went well beyond his job definition and his actions prevented the deaths of many of his fellow soldiers.

Patton survived it all and went on to benefit from it by virtue of the medal he received and the extra compensation that the Federal Government allots to all of the Medal of Honor recipients.

In addition to the praise that was heaped on Patton and his fellow Medal of Honor winners in the various accounts of these battles, I have read later articles that would seek to diminish the medals because of what these men did to earn them. Between them all, these soldiers killed literally thousands of Indians. Was the act of killing Indians in itself an honorable thing to do? I recognize that the many injustices that our Federal Government perpetrated on the Native American people do not constitute proud moments in our nation’s history, however, Patton was not the one who declared war on the indigenous people. Our government did. Patton was just being a good soldier.

Patton Whited was from the Old Virginia stock of Scots-Irish people who historians sometimes refer to as “Roundheads.” In an early history of the Colonial Virginia-North Carolina-Tennessee region titled Our Southern Highlanders , Horace Kephart noted that the Roundheads were the people most suited to exterminate the Indians. He attributed this suitability to their hot temper, strength, and cunning ways. Likely these “Roundheads” had put up with enough crap in their homeland before coming to this country and they certainly found more of it here.

Some of Patton’s immediate ancestors had more than their fair share of Indian problems. I’m pretty sure that he heard first- or second-hand accounts of the brutalities that some of the Indians inflicted upon the women and children of the earliest white settlers. Some of his ancestors had likely witnessed family members being tortured by some of the crueler Indians of Virginia. The Whited family even moved to North Carolina for awhile in the late 1700’s to avoid the Shawnees, who were known to not only burn settlements and kill their captives, but would sometimes slowly torture them.

The story of James Boone is one of the better-known examples of this. James was the teenage son of Daniel Boone. The Boones lived in Russell County, VA at that time, as did my ancestors. After capturing young Boone, his captors slowly pulled his fingernails out one-by-one before eventually killing him.

Patton was also familiar with the friendlier Cherokees, as some of his cousins married Cherokee women. The point that I’m making is that Patton’s attitude was shaped by experience as well as understanding. Patton was likely not motivated by racism. This should be evident by the fact that when Patton’s hitch in the Army was over, he married an Indian woman. He did not despise Indians as a people. He was true to his country and true to himself. Not unlike the Dirty Harry character, he likely just despised the brutality and he met it with the same. If you want to get my Roundhead blood a boilin’, just suggest that Patton was un-deserving of being called a hero.

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