March 7th was a Sunday in 1965, and John Lewis thought that he was going to die.
The group had marched across the Edmund Pettis bridge. 600 protesters spread out thin when you saw them like this, mostly locals. He made a note of how far below the water was. Could he swim, if thrown over? There was a chill in the air, that touched him underneath a thin black suit.
The Sherriff was waiting.
Sherriff Jim Clark of the city of Selma told his men to make ready. In the front were the uniformed state troopers, behind them the newly deputized men of the county, some with batons, some with baseball bats or lengths of chain. The detail donned their gas masks and set the white helmets back atop. Hosea Williams was leading the march, next to Lewis. He asked the Sherriff for a word.
“Got nothin’ to talk about.” Jim Clark said, before putting on his own mask, and lobbing the first canister of tear gas.
The running and screaming started instantly. There were women and old men, dressed up in the best clothes they had. What were they supposed to do, when they couldn’t breath? Some bumped into each other, through the smoke, some tripped and fell. It was all going to shit, and now came the deputies, on the sheriffs orders, go go go, and the batons fell. Through the smoke a woman was being clubbed, an old man was coughing and staggering around and someone caught him from behind. The batons surrounded Lewis and he fell, it was impossible not to fall, when something caught him on the head and the world went dark and cold.
What does it take to walk into an area where you might be killed? How do you prepare yourself for that kind of situation?
June 28, 2005 was a Tuesday in Afghanistan, and Lt. Michael Murphy knew he was going to die.
The radio was shit in these mountains. To much interference, and the Taliban kept coming. Everyone was getting shot to hell. Christ, all his guys were going to die, Danny, Matt, and Marc, no one was going home. There was maybe one chance and he had to take it. There was a clearing farther away from his cover where the signal would be clear. He had to get there. There was a sound to the AK’s that was distinctive, and when the first time he got hit Christ Jesus it hurt, he dropped the fucking sat phone, but the second and after that he was a little numb to it, and Headquarters was there, they were getting his sitrep, and at the end he even said “Thank You”, even if he didn’t talk at all after that. But he still had a weapon and he could still engage, because if he wasn’t going to fucking make it one of his guys was, QRF was coming in, and when the Taliban finally came to claim his body it was surrounded by brass shells and the dead he had taken with him.
What does it take to put someone else’s life above your own? To value the survival of others ahead of yourself?
October 20th 1943 was a Wednesday and Irena Sendler knew she was going to die.
The SS officer in charge of interrogating her was handsome and spoke calmly, in perfect Polish. But the others guards were more interested in hurting her, and from what she could see about her legs and feet they had broken things. Where are the children? They asked. The Jewish children, and your collaborators, who are they? You are not a Jew. You are a Pole. These are not your people, tell us what you have done and who you are working with, and all of this will be over. Finally they said she was going to the firing squad. Which was a relief, because it would be over, and she could see all the faces, all of those she had taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto, little babies and small children in the back of her ambulance past the checkpoint, who would never be killed by the German Nationalists, it was over and she was going to die and the children would be safe.
Of the three people mentioned here, Lt. Michael Murphy died of his wounds. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions. John Lewis became a Congressman who continues to serve this day. Irena Sendler was smuggled out of Poland before the firing squad could execute her. Her organization saved 2,500 children, 400 by her own actions.
We see a lot of negative in current events at this time. But while we process these things let us not forget that true heroism is almost always brought about in response to these events, and true bravery is brought about not only by unpopular opinion, but by actions that threaten your very mortality. Let us remember this weekend that Dr. King himself gave his life for what he believed in, and that all of us as true Patriots should be willing to do the same, if asked. Good will win in the end, if enough people are willing to do what is right, no matter the price.