Carl Mays: Defining a true American hero

Feb. 09, 2013 @ 12:18 AM

Today’s column springs from a combination of (1) a newspaper article about the exciting Super Bowl game this past Sunday (2) a comment from someone at the post office Tuesday about the Gatlinburg Veterans Day program I have emceed for several years and (3) a book, “Out Of The Depths,” that Brad Justus, a football coach at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School loaned me a couple of seasons ago. (I will eventually return it, Brad.)

The Super Bowl article mentioned heroes of the game, and there were, indeed, some outstanding performances by superb athletes. Especially did Baltimore Ravens quarterback and game MVP Joe Flacco rise to the occasion, as did Raven Jacoby Jones who had the 108-yard kickoff return and 56-yard pass reception for touchdowns. Of course, the Ravens defense made an outstanding goal line stand near the end of the game to salvage the victory after the San Francisco 49ers staged a great comeback.

The comment I received at the post office came from a military veteran. He emphasized how he appreciated the Veterans Day Program, how the younger generations should always be made aware of sacrifices by veterans and current military personnel, and how much he appreciated some words I quoted from my wife Jean’s poem, America’s Real Heroes:

“We must teach our children who the real heroes are – we must help them see who’s really a star – let’s remind our children to always be true – to the land of the great Red, White and Blue – to uphold the ideals – for which men and women have died – as they fought and bled – as onward they strived – to protect our land – to protect you and me – to keep us safe – to keep us free.”

“Out Of The Depths” is a book about the aftermath following the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II. It was written by David Harrell as told to him by his father Edgar Harrell of the U.S. Marine Corps, one of 317 survivors from the ship’s crew of 1,196. Nine hundred remained alive after the initial blast, but over a five-day period, the cold, oil-soaked waters of the Philippine Sea claimed the majority. A mixture of shark attacks, salt-water poisoning, hypothermia, dehydration and crew members sacrificing for one another took its toll.

In the book’s foreword, Oliver North, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Retired), writes, “...our definition of ‘hero’ has been stretched to include all manner of people... the athlete who just set a new sports record... the ‘daring’ movie star... the adventurer out to be the first solo climber to scale a mountain... They may have shown courage and bravery – but they don’t meet the definition of a hero...”

North goes on to write how Harrell and his fellow survivors deserved to be called heroes, how the survivors who had been serving their country, began serving one another. Selfless, not for glory or pure personal satisfaction, they worked together as a team to help each other escape the experience alive. They sacrificed their own lives striving to save the lives of comrades.

Two contributors to the book, Loel Cox and Sherman Booth, combined to give one example. “We saw sharks from day one, and after a short while the sharks became aggressive. In saturated life jackets, with legs dangling, we became easy targets. We would hear screams, water would turn red, and men would be pulled under. On the fourth day, when a boy from Oklahoma saw the sharks eat his best friend, he placed his 12-inch long knife in his mouth, like Tarzan did in the movies, and started chasing sharks to save others.”

The book I hold is signed by Ed Harrell, and under his signature is written Psalm 27:1 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

© 2013 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author, whose mentoring site is based on his “A Strategy For Winning” book and program. Contact or view