Since the time I had returned from Vietnam, I have noticed how the public’s perception and treatment of veterans has changed over the years. Overall, it is a very good thing. However, I take exception with the current trend of referring every and all active duty military and veterans as “heroes”.
While the dictionary definition of a hero does include the performance of a selfless, valorous act – as well as having a noble character – the military usage of that designation is limited to just the valorous act. It is for those who have performed above and beyond the regular call of duty. For most, military service in general may be considered as a demonstration of such noble character, but I do not know of any active duty service member or veteran who would apply the label “hero” to themselves. That also includes individuals who have earned valorous decorations. What you will hear those with valorous decorations say, is that they were just doing their job, and that anyone else would do the same thing. I don’t know of anyone in a combat situation who thought that what (s)he was doing was in any way heroic. Rather, they were just doing their job, nothing more, and nothing less.
To blithely offer the honorific term of “hero” to everyone, is to diminish the significance of that title to those who have gone above and beyond. I personally knew a Medal of Honor recipient who, if he were still living, would tell you with all sincerity that he was just doing his job, as he hovered his helicopter from one position on the battlefield to another, under enemy fire to pick up wounded South Vietnamese soldiers. After dropping off a load of wounded at an aid station, he returned to the battlefield several more times to rescue more. To most people’s minds, his actions were truly heroic. But the late Michael Novosel would tell you, “I was just doing my job as anyone in my position would have done”.
Let’s thank our active duty military for the job that they do, and thank our veterans for their service. But let’s hold the label “hero” for those who truly did something exceptional.