The Heroes Among Us
For over thirty years I’ve been writing about heroes on the battlefield who have earned our admiration for their valor. Some have won medals; others were ordinary soldiers who have gone unrecognized by simply doing their job often under terrifying conditions and in places now obscured in the pages of history.
I had an entirely different article planned for this month but that will have to wait until another time. Like millions of other Americans I have been profoundly saddened and appalled by the horrific tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut on a sunny Friday morning in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
For those of us who write history, this is the type of story we hope and pray we will never have to write. Our sorrow knows no bounds, the event is still too raw, and our pens are bereft of suitable words to adequately chronicle, much less make sense of this awful event. Suffice it to note that Sandy Hook will forever be an indelible stain on American history, at a time when too many innocents are dying for no other reason than that they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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On that terrible day twenty young lives were snuffed out from bullets fired from a semi-automatic assault weapon in the hands of a maniac. At the same time six remarkable women also gave their lives heroically protecting the lives of their young charges. The principal of the school, Dawn Hochsprung, died after confronting the gunman; young Victoria Soto, described as a superb teacher, died shielding her class, while saving most of their lives. Four other women at the school also died. All of them exhibited incredible bravery that is difficult to envision. All died just as heroically as military men and women die in combat protecting their comrades.
As Mike Lupica has written in the New York Daily News on December 23, 2012: “We talk so often, properly so, about the Greatest Generation, my father’s generation, the ones who went off to fight World War II because in that moment that kind of courage was needed in America. But now there is a new Greatest Generation, one that includes the adults who tried to save children the Friday morning before last, surely knowing it would cost them their lives, adults who were as brave and honorable as any serviceman or woman who has ever laid down their life for their country, because of what they did when evil came walking through the front door of an elementary school.”
All of us owe these educators a great debt for what they did to teach and nurture the children of Sandy Hook – and for their bravery in the face of unimaginable terror we will forever hold them in our hearts.
Speaking of courage, I know of no braver or compassionate person than Robert Parker, the father of six-year old Emilie, the beautiful child with the vivid blue eyes who was one of the twenty children gunned down at Sandy Hook. Although he never intended it that way, Mr. Parker has become the unofficial spokesman for the Newtown parents who lost children in the rampage. He is also a shining example of grace in the wake of tragedy.
As the days pass and we seek closure, we are finding there is very little, nor has it become any clearer why a troubled young man decided that morning to execute the person who had borne, nurtured and protected him, and then murdered twenty-six innocent women and young children.
As for the citizens of Newtown, and in particular the young boys and girls who experienced at firsthand horrors no human being should ever have to endure: how will life ever be the same for them? Yes, children are resilient but what they suffered is beyond the pale. The parents of these children and the citizens of Newtown will, I believe, come through this – but it won’t be easy. The oft-used phrase “one day at a time” was never truer. For many it has been one minute and one hour at a time as broken hearts attempt to mend.
Sandy Hook was not only Newtown’s tragedy but also America’s. On that day, as we have on other days in other schools such as Columbine and Virginia Tech, we’ve seen innocents murdered.
The sad fact is that eighty-five people a day (that’s three per hour) die every day in this country from the barrel of a gun. Over the course of a year that number balloons to over 31,000. The number that die from a firearm in less than three months exceeds the number of American military personnel killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
As it must, the debate over gun control has at last been renewed with a sense of urgency. Where it will go in the face of unrelenting resistance from the powerful gun lobby that seems to believe that every American has a God-given and Second Amendment right to own an assault rifle is anyone’s guess.
A great many unanswered questions loom in the days ahead. Can gun owner’s change, while still retaining their constitutionally protected rights? Can the test of reason prevail and result in a compromise that bans assault weapons? Is there enough will to even try? And, if so, will there just be more talk and no action as memories of Newtown begin to fade? Is there such a thing as common ground or more of the same old arguments about gun rights and the Second Amendment?
In the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in nearby Danbury, CT – the same store where the gunman attempted to purchase a rifle three days before the massacre – crassly promoted a sale of ammunition for as low as 5 cents per round. Apparently, insensitivity and stupidity live on even in the wake of tragedy.
While the Second Amendment is inviolate, I cannot fathom why anyone needs an assault weapon, and why these weapons and their multi-round magazines are too readily available with little or insufficient control over who purchases them.
Our nation needs to redefine its goals and our lawmakers need to decide their legacy for future generations. To have to lock down our schools, run drills, and have children from five years of age live with the fear of not being safe when in school is unacceptable. As they become adults, fear may secretly predominate their psyches and create anxieties they cannot express. Is that what we want to teach them?
We need to step up and step up now. I’ve always believed in doing the right thing. Well, the right thing is that we have to do better – we have to take better care to protect our most precious asset, our children. The time for politics and for excuses has expired. We need to do it before we have to bury any more young children.
We need to do more than just talk – and then fail to act. To do nothing is to ignore their peril. It is time to do the right thing and address these issues with a unified spirit and some old fashioned common sense, working together to create change. Only when we say “enough is enough” will we come together.
We cannot bring back the innocent victims of Newtown but we can at least begin the process of keeping these weapons from the hands of people who will misuse them by banning assault rifles. It’s certainly not a perfect solution but at least it’s a start.
Was Sandy Hook Elementary School enough?