On May 29, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a dozen "heroes" of his choosing, awarding them the highest honor bestowed upon a civilian for having made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
I think it is wise for us to have precise definitions for the words we use - after all, words mean things and help us make sense of reality. It's my opinion that the word "hero" should be reserved for those who make personal sacrifices for the good of others, especially those who display that "greater love" referenced in John 15:13 by laying down their lives for their friends.
I'm not disparaging the President's choice of who to honor - it is, after all, the Presidential medal. He can choose whomever he wants. I think it says something about the President himself, though, to look at the people on the list, among them a socialist feminist and a folk singer.
It's not that these people haven't impacted the culture. It isn't that they don't deserve an award. What I have trouble with is the use of the term "hero" applied to them.
Two years ago I was on a medevac helicopter in Wardak province, Afghanistan as it hovered down through a brownout of dust onto a scene of carnage. A mangled Humvee sat crumpled on a gravel road as mangled men were pulled from it. One by one, the wounded were loaded onto the helicopter, bandaged and bleeding. Then, the medic leaned in and shouted over the whine of the rotors "We have one more - a hero!"
In Afghanistan, the term "hero" is reserved for someone who has given the ultimate sacrifice. That man, a lieutenant from Mississippi who joined the Army after 9/11, left his new wife and two young daughters to lead his men to war. Whether or not you believe that war is just, or agree with the prosecution of it, one thing is indisputable - that 29-year-old lieutenant went to war because his country asked him to and gave his life defending ours.
To me, that's what it takes to be a hero.