Monday, November 26, 2007

We Don't Need Another Hero?

I read an article that really bothered me. The article is basically about the qualities that make a hero and Arland D. Williams, Jr. Mr. Williams was a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, a plane that crashed into the Potomac River on January 13, 1982. He was one of a handful of people to survive the initial impact of the crash and hang on to a part of the airplane that was still on the surface while waiting to be rescued. A helicopter came with a rescue ring on a cable and Mr. Williams gave it up three times to others so that they could live. The article finishes up with what amounts to a Darwin Award. No lie, these are the last two lines of the article,

"But as Darwin predicted, there is no Arland Williams IV.
And there never will be."

There was quite a bit of useful information in the article but the way it ended made me feel like it was condemning heroes for being selfish and not thinking of those that loved them. I understand that heroes typically die just trying to help others, and perhaps they are individually foolish. But what about the greater good? What about the lives that were saved because Mr. Williams gave up his turn at the rescue ring three times?

Kelly Duncan was one of the people that received one of Mr. Williams' turns on the rescue ring. As of 2005, she was happily married with three teen-aged children, she said,

"I feel like every day has been a blessing. I have a wonderful life. It sounds crazy to say it, but that accident changed my life for good... God used a bad thing to turn my life around."

I understand the impact of the loss of Mr. Williams on his family. The whole incident was a tragedy and the loss of his life was no less tragic, but he did one of the most kind and generous things that anyone can do for another human being. He gave his life trying to help others.

I am not sure that anyone has the answer as to why a person sacrifices his life for others he does not even know. This is a special quality that should leave us all wondering how we can help another person, not just in a dangerous situation, but in the everyday world. Altruism is something we see very little of in our daily ugliness bombardment of death, destruction, and celebrity gossip that we call news. Yes, the loss of Mr. Williams is bittersweet, but he has given us all a higher standard to live up to.

I am saying all of this not because I have always wanted to be a Superhero, but because this article is wrong in its conclusion. We must have people like Mr. Williams who stand up and do the right thing to help others. This is the example that we all need learn from to become better people so that all of humanity can progress.

I thought about listing heroes from war, or civilian heroes , but these links will have to be enough. After all, I know that I can not really put together a thoroughly researched response to Christopher Mcdougall's article, but I don't think I need to do that to know in my heart that he is wrong. Mr. Williams is not a Darwin Award winner. He is what we should all aspire to be. A hero.


PJ said...

Honoring heroism:
The "sixth passenger", who had survived the crash and had repeatedly given up the rescue lines to other survivors before drowning, was later identified as 46-year-old bank examiner Arland D. Williams Jr. The repaired span of the 14th Street Bridge complex over the Potomac River at the crash site, which had been officially named the "Rochambeau Bridge", was renamed the "Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge" in his honor. The Citadel in South Carolina, from which he graduated in 1957, has several memorials to him. In 2003, the new Arland D. Williams Jr. Elementary School was dedicated in his hometown of Mattoon in Coles County, Illinois.

Civilians Roger Olian and Lenny Skutnik received the United States Coast Guard's Gold Lifesaving Medal. Arland D. Williams also received the award posthumously. Skutnik was introduced to the joint session of the U.S. Congress during President Ronald Reagan's State of the Union speech later that month. President Reagan also personally contacted and privately thanked Roger Olian.

The two crewmen of the U.S. Park Police helicopter Eagle 1 were awarded the United States Coast Guard's Silver Lifesaving Medal. The U.S. Park Service is part of the United States Department of the Interior. Pilot Donald W. Usher and paramedic Melvin E. Windsor also received the Department of the Interior's Valor Award from Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt in a special ceremony soon afterward. Usher is now Superintendent of the U.S. Park Police Training Academy in Brunswick, Georgia.

Roger Olian, Lennie Skutnik, Donald Usher, and Melvin Windsor each received the Carnegie Hero Fund Medal.

Kelly Duncan, the only surviving flight attendant, was recognized in the NTSB accident report for her "unselfish act" of giving the only lifevest she could find to another passenger.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post from a couple years back. I just told this story in church today and as I researched this story, I was surprised by the MacDougall article as well. I wasn't impressed with its cynical tone and the way he almost seemed to be justifying cowardice. God bless (he probably already is blessing) Arland D. Williams, Jr.