Joe Barrera: Heroes Make Us Who We Are

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red rock canyon hiking COLORFUL
View from Red Rock Canyon

Are heroes molded by the societies which produce them, or do heroes create the values that define societies? It’s a perennial question. Colorado Springs is imbued with the military ethos and we take the question of war heroes seriously. For me this is especially poignant. I still crave peace on my journey home from the Vietnam War. Searching for it, I met recently with The Pikes Peak Heroes Legacy Committee, another of our distinguished citizens’ groups dedicated to honoring veterans and their legacy.

The Pikes Peak Heroes Legacy Committee “exists for the purpose of honoring and remembering the sacrifices of heroes among us, to ensure that their legacy is preserved in our community for future generations.” To that end, the Committee is dedicated to creating a permanent, mobile, museum-quality exhibit to honor the legacy of the flagship of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the USS Arizona, sunk on December 7, 1941. And the Arizona sailor and  survivor, Donald G. Stratton, the 96-year-old retiree who lives in Colorado Springs. But more than that, the Committee wants us to remember that the heroes of Pearl Harbor, even if only a few remain, are very much alive. The traditions they represent are also very much alive. The Committee is chaired by Capt. Bob Lally, (US Navy Ret.). Vice-chair is Col. Stan VanderWerf, (USAF Ret.). Committee members are Lisa Bachman, USAF Veteran; Dr. Andy Cain, (USN Ret.); Matt Coleman (USN Ret.); LtCol. Bill Linn, (USA Ret.); CDR Mark Seglem; (USN Ret.); Mary Beth Burichin, CSprings Airport; Welling Clark, (USN Ret.); Bill Nelson, attorney-at-law; Andy Vick, Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region. Nikki and Randy Stratton represent the family of Don Stratton. We owe all of them a sincere thanks.

The panel has already succeeded in re-naming the new Fillmore Street bridge at I-25 after Don Stratton. No doubt they will succeed with the new exhibit, which will be on display at the airport, there to greet both residents and visitors and educate them on the values which we prize in this community. But the fund-raising is still underway. Contact the Center for Regional Advancement, a 501(c)3 organization affiliated with the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, to donate.

I feel that a country, a society, a culture makes heroes. We know that America is somehow exceptional, that we live for truth, freedom, justice, fairness, and equality. And for one other thing. We live for kindness. These are high standards. We may not always live up to them, but we never stop trying. I believe that is what makes us “exceptional,” that we never stop trying–and that we are always ready to defend these virtues. The men who died at Pearl Harbor died defending them.

As he writes in his book, All the Gallant Men, Don Stratton was enraged at the treachery of the Japanese, the way their pilots grinned and waved at the American sailors they were mercilessly strafing and bombing as they flew their planes twenty-feet off the water at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack was against all that Americans hold dear. Five minutes into the Pearl Harbor attack every American sailor and Marine had made the steely resolve to avenge the death and wounding of their comrades. The sheer cruelty was against all the rules of kindness. Kindness is an American virtue. Yes, sometimes we forget ourselves and behave in a cruel manner, but we always remember who we are and come back to kindness. Kindness springs from the truth that we are all equal. There was one man who certainly believed in equality. This man believed in it so much that he disobeyed orders for the sake of the equality he felt with his shipmates. In doing so he saved Don Stratton and five other men. Joe George, the man who saved Don’s life, was the perfect example of kindness. Read Don’s book. You will be inspired to live up to American values.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

 

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