Friday, March 22, 2013

What is a hero?

What is a hero? 

The tradition of decorating heroes is very old and common to human cultures all over the world throughout time. Joseph Campbell spent his lifetime studying the hero archetype in mythology and defined a hero as an individual who leaves the community to embark on a difficult quest or adventure and then returns home to share knowledge gained from the journey.  The concept of hero is often confused with athlete or pop culture role models in contemporary America, however the US military clearly defines a hero. The military hero is an individual who has performed above and beyond expectations and risked or gave their life to save the lives of others.  Special jewelry is awarded for extraordinary conduct. For instance, the Purple Heart is awarded to members of the military wounded or killed in combat. It is the oldest medal still given to members of the US military. It bears the profile of George Washington because it began as the Badge of Military Merit, initiated by General Washington in the Revolutionary War.  Why is it purple? During Revolutionary wartimes, firearms were made of both iron and wood and the preferred wood for rifle stocks at that time was the Purple Heart wood.

The highest medal given to a member of the armed forces for valor in combat is the Medal of Honor aka the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is sparingly bestowed, especially on living soldiers, as most recipients do not survive the action they are awarded for.  It is the only military medal worn around the neck and is always presented by the President of the United States. Different versions of the medal are designed for different branches of the service, but it is always in the shape of a star and usually includes the figure or profile of the Goddess Minerva, wearing a helmet in the center. Minerva was the Roman Goddess of War.  I have seen an Air Force version on display at The Museum of Flight in Seattle made of gold with pearls and enamels, a beautiful and fitting tribute to the airman it belongs to.

                                                      Former Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha

This morning's Seattle Times had a front page story on one of the last living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II. The post office is issuing a stamp today with an image of the medal and faces of 12 of the WW2 recipients on the boarder of the stamp sheet. Four have died since 2012 when the USPS began designing the stamp and only two are in good enough shape to travel to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony.  Here is a link to the Seattle Times article about one of the two who will be honored today:

In 2000, Helen Drutt asked me to create a medal and I came up with a decoration for the Order of the Ear. This medal is to be awarded to a politician who demonstrates an extraordinary ability to listen to their constituents. So far, it has not been bestowed.