What Does a Hero Look Like?
According to the news media, a hero is a professional athlete who comes out of the closet and tells the world that he is gay. One reporter went on to say that he was "bold and courageous." Another reported compared him to Civil Rights pioneer, Rosa Parks, a genuine hero in most people's estimations. In other cases, a celebrity that enters rehab for their drug or alcohol addiction is declared a hero. While this is commendable, I personally don't see it rising to the status of heroic.
This past week, I was visiting my daughter in Connecticut. We were walking in downtown Stamford and happened to walk by the statue that is pictured above. I am a history buff and I was intrigued to find out more about Master Sergeant Homer Wise. The Medal of Honor is our country's highest award for valor and it is an elite group of warriors that have been awarded the MOH. Who was this man and what had he done?
Homer Wise was a high school dropout who had no idea what he wanted from life. He floundered in a succession of menial jobs until deciding to join the army. World War Two was under way and many other young men were enlisting. Maybe Homer felt that it was his duty to serve.
In 1943, Wise was part of the allied invasion of Italy. He fought in several campaigns there and was awarded the Silver Star, America's second highest award for valor. He later was also awarded the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. It was his actions on June 14, 1944, though, that earned him our nations highest award.
It was near Magliano, Italy. Staff Sergeant Wise and his platoon were advancing towards a ridge with orders to occupy it when they came under heavy German fire. One of his men was shot and fell, still in the line of fire. Wise ran to the man, picked him up, and with bullets striking all around them, and carried him to safety.
As Wise's men continued to advance, the enemy fire again stopped them. Wise saw a German officer and two German soldiers moving into position behind them to attack the Americans from the rear. Staff Sergeant Wise moved from protective cover to get a shot at the three Germans. He was able to kill them before they could get him or his men.
In front of Wise's platoon, from the ridge that was their objective, more Germans were focusing their fire on the Americans. A machine gun position had them pinned down and prevented the platoon from advancing. Wise knew that to stop would mean the death of his men. He moved out in front of his platoon and began to lay down accurate rifle fire at the Germans. This suppressing fire allowed his men to keep moving forward. The Staff Sergeant then borrowed a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) from one of his men and moved to a position where he could take out the German machine gun.
Wise's platoon was moving again but was still taking heavy enemy fire from the ridge. There was no way that his platoon was going to be able to take the ridge. There were just too many Germans there and their gunfire was too heavy. Suddenly, Staff Sergeant Wise saw an American tank coming his way. He quickly jumped up on the tank and tried to use the mounted machine gun. It was jammed. As bullets struck all around him, Wise was able to get the jam cleared and the machine gun firing. He put around 750 rounds of machine gun fire into the German soldiers on the ridge, eliminating the threat. Return fire all but ceased from the ridge and Wise and his platoon were able to occupy their objective.
It was for his actions this day that Staff Sergeant, later Master Sergeant, Homer Wise was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He saved the life of one of his men at great risk to himself. He continually exposed himself to enemy fire to protect the other men of his platoon. As the platoon leader, he was still able to accomplish his mission but he did it in such a way to minimize injuries to his men. He led from the front and put himself in harms to save those he led.
What does a hero look like? Take a close look at the statue and the picture. Master Sergeant Homer Wise is a hero. Maybe the media needs to rethink what their standards are. Heroism always seems to involve actions like those of Homer Wise: a normal person doing something extraordinary to protect and help others. Thank you Master Sergeant Wise for your example.
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