Do Heroes Still Exist?

They’re gone, most of them anyway. The heroes of my youth have died off or, in some cases, fell from grace.

As a young Catholic girl, I knew that President John F. Kennedy was someone special in our hearts for breaking the religious bias of previous generations. His liberal views scared some folks and delighted those oppressed too long by archaic laws and discrimination. As an adult I came to learn about Kennedy’s not-so-upstanding moral defects, but as a child, I mourned the loss of someone who inspired so many.

In the late hours of a hot July night in 1969, our dad woke us to watch Neil Armstrong take the first step onto the moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin followed. We watched through sleepy eyes, our father giddy with the excitement only a news editor can display at that time of night.

Those gentle steps onto another planet were amazing feats that sparked some silly little movies about stars and wars and TV shows about being lost in space. Astronauts launched themselves into stardom and hero status and inadvertently made millionaires out of Hollywood stars and script writers.

As for movie stars, my favorite was Loretta Young. She was not drop-dead gorgeous, yet she had a way of carrying herself beautifully and often played tough parts in the movies. But her life off screen proved to be fraught with scandal. Her misdeeds of yesterday, however, are commonplace in today’s society.

The sports world is filled with rags-to-success stories of athletes who grew out of poverty and hard times. Often from obscure little towns, discovered by team scouts, many went on to make it big on the court or field. Then the medicine cabinet door swung open and revealed their use of illegal enhancement drugs.

Now we add members of West Virginia’s highest court to the “falling from grace” list. Spending taxpayers’ money on extravagant items is bad enough, but lying about it is the worst crime. It’s a shame people in power fail to honor the integrity of their positions. I worry about what kids today want to be when they grow up. They have fewer good role models from which to emulate. I grew up in a time when life was simpler and not so consumed with material things. Maybe that’s because the things we cherished most could not be bought — a kickball game played until dark or picking pears off the Hogans’ trees. We were happy to sit on the ground and watch the stars come out. And the real heroes, the kind that fought wars in far-off lands, were and still are priceless.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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