Neil Armstrong: A Real Hero
In a Nation of Invented Heroes

By Jim Berlin

Heroes have become a dime a dozen in America. No, a dime a thousand.

A child calls 9-l-l when his mother keels over and everyone from the fire chief to the news anchors proclaim him a hero. He gets a plaque and a ceremony when a handshake and a clap on the back would do.

If the kid’s house had been on fire and he dragged mama outside, that would have been heroic. As it is he’s just a bright kid who did the right thing.

But it’s gotten much bigger and more pervasive than that. For the last 10 years every military unit that returns from deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan is collectively welcomed home as “heroes” by their local media. Again, they are not.

There may well be heroes among them, maybe even with medals to prove it, but mostly they are patriotic men and women who performed their duty with honor. They can be damn proud of that, but they would be the first to tell you they’re not heroes.

This “everybody’s a hero” thing starts at an early age now in America. At the end of the season every youngster in many soccer, baseball and football leagues gets a trophy. Win or lose, first place or last.

We don’t want to damage any of their delicate self-images. Give them a trophy

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that says “participant.” It all cheapens real achievement, real heroism.

Then you have Neil Armstrong. A Navy pilot at age 20 flying a Panther fighter jet during the Korean War. Eighteen years later he does a different kind of flying, riding a fragile spacecraft 225,000 miles through the vacuum of space. Then, for an encore, he becomes the first of our species to put a footprint on a place beyond our planet.

When Armstrong came home he hid from the public eye, refusing to cash in on the greatest human and scientific achievement of the 20th century.

He died last Saturday at age 82. An American hero. The real thing.