Posts Tagged ‘Hero’

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Thursday’s Heroes: Nancy Hart

May 3, 2012

Nancy Hart

Hero is one of the words we come across in life that has gender attached to it, hero for men, and heroine for women. Today, the feminine is somewhat dated and both men and women are referred to as  heroes. While I hold no opinion on this being a good or bad thing, there is no question women are every bit as heroic as men, if not more so. Nancy Hart well illustrates that point.

While Mrs. Hart may not be a household name, her exploits are heroic nonetheless. Born Nancy Morgan around 1735, though the exact time of her birth is lost to history. Some put it as late as 1747; she was raised in North Carolina. Again, this is not exactly known and some reports place her birth in Pennsylvania.

Regardless, by 1770, Nancy was a full-grown woman married to Benjamin Hart of North Carolina. Around that time, Benjamin received a land grant of 500 acres in the Broad River Valley. The Broad River is a tributary of Georgia’s Savannah River. It is located between Athens and Elberton running diagonally, southeast.

This area of Georgia was rife with trouble. The trouble was partially due to the displacement of Native-Americans and partially due to the uncertain boundaries of land grants. As the decade progressed, the growing turmoil between those sympathetic to the Crown and those loyal to the Revolution replaced prior issues, though often a person picked a side in response to an opponent’s joining the other side. This led to the area gaining the nickname of “The Hornet’s Nest” during the revolution, as personal hostility had more to do with the fighting than loyalty to a cause and could flare at a moment’s notice.

Before the Revolution, Nancy was well known in the area as a fierce defender of her family and friends. It is said her demeanor matched her stature. Legend has it, she was just over six-feet tall and blest with the strength and agility of a frontiersman. It is a good thing too, as Nancy herself, said she had no share in beauty. At the time of the Hart family’s arrival in Georgia, the first to discover her ferocity were the displaced Native-Americans in the area. As they attempted to reestablish their claim to the land and after several such encounters, the local tribe had a name for Nancy, “Wahatche” which loosely translates to “war-woman.” They so respected her that is also, what they called the creek that ran beside her home, “Wahatche Creek”

Elijah Clarke

During the Revolution, Benjamin served in the Georgia Militia under Elijah Clarke. This left Nancy to fend alone for herself and her six sons and two daughters. At that time, the area was part of Wilkes County and Wilkes County has just about as many Whigs as Tories. [Whigs were the Patriots and Tories the Loyalists] Nancy, being true to her nature, was an outspoken support of the Patriot cause and that brought unwanted attention to her door. So much so that one night one of her children secretly informed her someone was peeping through a crack or knothole as Nancy made soap. Nancy ladled up nice hot lye from her kettle and flung it through the opening, much to the agony of her spy. It is said she made sport of the poor wretch for a day before she bound him and marched him, even crossing a river to the camp of the local Militia.

On another occasion, Aunt Nancy (all the Whip soldiers called her that) met a Tory soldier walking along a footpath. She engaged him with small talk and diverted his attention, then seized his weapon and force-marched him to a nearby camp. It is said about 100 Tories took the same afternoon stroll with Nancy before the war was over.

During the way, Nancy acted as a spy, captured Tory soldiers, and even defended a stockade from the Tories with cannon pretty much by herself. Still, all this pales when compared to the exploits she is most famous for.

One evening a detachment of five men arrived at the Hart home. They had been out forcing local inhabitants to swear allegiance to the King.  History supports  the men to be part of the same regiment that murdered Col. John Dooley, the hero at the Battle of Kettle Creek, at his home, in front of his wife and children. They specifically wished to question Nancy about a rumor she aided a young man elude his Tory pursuers. Rather than deny it, Nancy entertained the men with the story of her exploits and her assistance in helping her “Liberty Boy” flee. Knowing her reputation, the men simply ordered her to fix them something to eat.

One of the men killed her last chicken and ordered her to clean and cook it for them. Nancy, of course, was beside herself and exclaimed, “I never feed King’s men if I can help it,” but she really had little choice. Though the accounts are sketchy, it appears the men let slip about the murder of Col. Dooly, who was a close friend of the Hart family. This set Nancy’s mind to thinking and she suddenly changed her tone to one of good humor with the men. Little could they know just what Nancy had in store.

After the men relaxed with her change in mood, Nancy sent one of her daughter’s to the creek to fetch water. Secretly, Nancy instructed her to sound the alarm while there that Tories were in the area. The locals had conch shell horns strategically located along the creek for just an occasion. They also had a series of alarms for various requirements. Nancy regaled the men with her wilderness stories, further relaxing them to the point one of the men pitched in and helped her with dinner. They had expected to find her ill-tempered and combative; her current demeanor was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. Her ability to match them, rude comment for rude comment and jest for jest, made her seem a delight.

Soon, the men broke into one of the wine jugs they brought with them, even inviting Nancy to join them in a drink, to which she replied, “I’ll take one swig with you,” and furthered their good cheer. The men kept drinking, Nancy kept cooking. By the time the bird was ready, the men were basking in the warmth of inebriation.

The Tories had stacked their rifles within easy reach when they first sat down and had paid them no mind since. Nancy asked the men to move her table to the center of the room giving her more space to serve the meal, the men complied, again with no thought to their weapons. It seems inebriation brings stupidity along with its warmth.

Nancy made sure to use up all the water her daughter brought before while cooking the meal and used a generous portion of salt in preparing it, as she served the men, she made sure she moved in and out and between them, thus making her movements seem natural. Soon, the men called for more water and again Nancy’s daughter was dispatched with the piggin (water skin) to the creek, this time with instructions to signal for the local militia, including her father, to come at once to the house.

All the while her daughter was off, Nancy had removed a board between two of the logs that made the cabin’s walls, she then slipped two of the muskets through unnoticed by her guests. She was slipping the third through when her luck ran out.

One of the soldiers noticed her actions and sounded the alarm. All the men sprang to their feet, but Nancy bested them. Maybe it was their drinking; maybe Nancy was just that quick. The reason really does not matter, as Nancy shouldered the musket she held before the men could reach her. She then threatened to kill the first man that stepped towards her. They all knew her reputation and for the moment that was enough to keep them away. Recovering his nerve, one of the men charged her and Nancy shot him dead.

While the men watch their compatriot die, Nancy armed herself with another musket. Soon after that, her daughter returned from her visit to the creek with news, Nancy’s husband and the militia would soon arrive. Nancy instructed her daughter to remove the remaining muskets from the room. The Tories realized time was short and rushed Nancy in a group. Nancy was up to the task and proved to the men just why her prior antagonists called her “War Woman.” She fired the new musket and another Tory fell. Nancy then leaped to the door, her daughter handed her another musket and she order the men to “surrender their ugly Tory carcasses to a Whig woman.” She held the men at bay until her husband and men arrived.

The Whig Militia men wanted to shoot the captive Tories but Nancy declared that was too good for them, as they had just killed Col. Dooly. She demanded they be hung and the militia took the men out and complied with her wishes.

After the war, Nancy and family moved to Brunswick, Georgia but she lost her husband Benjamin within a year or so.  She then relocated to Kentucky with one of her sons. Nancy passed away in 1830 in Henderson County, Kentucky. She is buried in the family cemetery there.

Georgia honors Nancy’s memory in many ways, Hart County being named for her, for instance. It is the only county in Georgia named for a woman, the “War Woman.”

Nancy Hart is a larger than life figure, but she did live. While the details of her exploits are undoubtedly embellished, the truth behind them remains. She was a six-foot tall, fiery, redheaded woman with a face scarred by small pox. What she may have lacked in beauty, she more than made up for in spirit and tenacity that is the stock of what makes up our mythical American spirit. Nancy proves, without a doubt, women are ever much as heroic as men. The fact is damn few men are even close to being as heroic as Nancy.

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Thursday’s Heroes: Just What Makes a Hero

April 19, 2012

Old Superman Comic Book Cover

We live in cynical times; there is no doubt about that.  While I think most people look at their current times as more cynical than before, it just may be today’s technology allows a little bit of cynical to go a long way.  Moreover, that same technology shines a light on even the smallest of blemish.  This leaves us with a requirement of perfection than no human can possibly attain.  It leaves us wanting, wanting a hero.

What does it mean to be heroic?  Here is what Webster’s has to say about it[i]:

Hero: he·ro: noun \ˈhir-(ˌ)ō\

plural he·roes

 

  1. a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
    b : an illustrious warrior
    c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
    d : one who shows great courage
  2. a: the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
    b: the central figure in an event, period, or movement
  1. plural usually he·ros : submarine 2
  2. an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol

It is “c” and “d” of the first definition I am talking about, though the definition’s masculine reference is somewhat dated.  We will ignore that last point; women have proven themselves every bit as heroic as men, if not more.  We can debate whether or not Webster’s needs to change with the times later on.

While today’s post deals mainly with defining a hero and the scope of the topic, in the weeks to come it will go into details about individual heroes.  We will peek behind the curtain, so to speak.  By understanding just how people achieved “hero” status, we will not only understand them but we will be inspired all the more, as they mostly are not mythical, or illustrious.  No, for the most part, heroes are normal people faced with extraordinary circumstances.   What makes them heroes is how they dealt with their particular situation.

For example:

  • You will read about Nancy Hart of Georgia.  Her heroism during the American Revolution inspired such admiration she is the only woman in the state to have a county named for

    Nancy Heart

    her.

  • You will learn about Sergeant Alvin York who served in World War I.  He struggled with his deeply held belief that it is wrong to kill, under any circumstances, and saving the life of his unit comrades.
  • Further, you will be introduced to Robert Smalls.  A former slave and ship’s pilot that escaped with his family during the Civil War by stealing the CSS Planter.   Even more remarkable, after the war he purchased the home where he was held as a slave.  Showing his humanitarian side, he allowed the widow of his former master to live out her days in

    Robert Smalls

    the home.  I’m not so sure I could be that gracious.

  • There is also a darker side to being a hero, as Kit Carson found out.  Carson became famous in his lifetime and the subject of many a dime-novel.  After an unsuccessful rescue attempt to save the White family from an Apache tribe, Carson was shown a novel based on his life, found amongst the family belongings.  Throughout his remaining days he had remorse and wondered if Mrs. White’s vainly thought that day of him riding to her rescue.

There will be others too, from all walks of life and all parts of the world.  Some will be famous, some not so famous.  I promise you none are perfect.  In fact, some people will see them as heroes while others view them as villains.  For instance, in the United States we see Benedict Arnold as a traitor; in Great Britain they may see him in a whole other light.  In a lot of cases hero-status depends on your point of view, all the more reason to deal with our heroes as human beings and not gods walking amongst us.

Heroes have flaws.  They are human after all.  Historians attempt to white-wash over their faults and only show them as perfect.  This does our heroes, and us, a disservice.  We need to see them for what they were and are, the good and bad, the perfect and imperfect, and yes, the brave and cowardly too.  By understanding our heroes are not perfect; we can accept the qualities we admire about them as living within each of us.  It is often said the difference between a hero and an ordinary person is opportunity, while that may be true; it is what heroes do with that opportunity that make them different.

In the end, I hope you will see heroes as human, not mythical.  I hope you understand we each have a little bit of the hero in us.  I hope you see each of us can do a thousand little things that makes us a hero in someone’s eye.  It is not the fame of it that’s important, but the doing.

 


[i] “Hero.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.
<http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hero?show=0>.

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Samuel Dealey, American Naval Hero

December 11, 2011

World War II is full of heroes, as all wars seem to be.  Still, given the scope, scale and especially the sacrifice of our entire nation, the heroes of World War II stand apart as even the average soldier and sailor would be heroic, judged by the standards of other wars.  Samuel David Dealey is just such a standout when it comes to heroes.  His story speaks directly to the spirit of America and the ability of Americans to put country above self.

Born September 13, 1906 in Dallas Texas, Samuel‘s father died when he was six, causing his mother to move the family to California for a time.  He returned to Texas and finished high school and spent two years studying at Southern Methodist University before transferring to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  Sam was not the most dedicated student to say the least.  His studies lapsed at Annapolis in 1925 for a time.  He buckled down in 1926 and graduated in the middle of the pack in the class of 1930.  By all accounts, Sam was a smart young man who simply did not apply himself.

Entering the fleet in 1930, Dealey served on several ships (including the USS Nevada (BB- 36) and the USS Wyoming (BB-32)).  In 1934, Samuel made a decision that changed his life; he joined the United States Submarine Service where both his talent and bravado served his needs as well as the Navy’s.  Rising quickly, in 1941 he took command of USS S-20 (SS-120), an experimental submarine, stationed in New London, Connecticut.  He was serving on S-20 when war broke out with Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.

Due to his success on S-20, Sam was assigned to USS Harder (SS-257) a new-construction submarine as its commanding officer.  Many of the improvements tested while he commanded S-20, including the diesel-electric drive, were used on Harder.  After commissioning and shake-down in New London, while in the Caribbean, Harder survived an attack by US aircraft that mistook her for an enemy submarine.  After that, she sailed to Pearl Harbor to join the fleet in mid-1943.

Movie lore often obscures the true acts of heroism as they usurp notable achievements to advance their plots.  Separating fact from fiction becomes very hard.  Such is the case when talking about Commander Dealey.  You see, Commander Dealey earned a nickname during his time on Harder.  He was known as “The Destroyer Killer.”  It seems a requirement for World War II submarine movies to include what is known as the “down the throat” shot.  This is when you fire at a contact that is heading right for you and dive under them as your torpedo slams into them.  Commander Dealey did not invent the maneuver, but it can be argued he perfected it.   During his fifth war patrol, Dealey and the crew of Harder sank five Japanese destroyers in four days.  His tactics we so successful the Japanese thought the island of Tawi-Tawi was surrounded by numerous submarines and abandoned it as a base of operations.  The fact is, the numerous submarines they feared turned out to be just one, USS Harder.  For his actions during this war patrol, Commander Dealey was awarded the Medal of Honor.  The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Harder during her fifth war patrol in Japanese controlled waters. Floodlighted by a bright moon and disclosed to an enemy destroyer escort which bore down with intent to attack, Cmdr. Dealey quickly dived to periscope depth and waited for the pursuer to close range, then opened fire, sending the target and all aboard down in flames with his third torpedo. Plunging deep to avoid fierce depth charges, he again surface and, within nine minutes after sighting another destroyer, had sent the enemy down tail first with a hit directly amidship. Evading detection he penetrated the waters of  Tawi Tawi with the Japanese fleet six miles away and scored death blows on two patrolling destroyers in quick succession. With his ship heeled over by the concussion of the first exploding target and the second vessel nose diving in a blinding detonation, he cleared the area at high-speed. Sighted by a large hostile fleet force on the following day, he swung his bow towards the lead destroyer for another “down-the-throat” shot, fired three bow tubes and promptly crash dived to be terrifically rocked seconds later by the exploding ship as the Harder passed beneath. This remarkable record of five vital Japanese destroyers sunk in five short-range torpedo attacks attests the valiant fighting spirit of Cmdr. Dealey and his indomitable command.

In another act of daring, Commander Dealey placed his submarine nose-first against a reef off the Woleai Island to rescue a downed and injured pilot.  Using he engines to keep the submarine against the reef, Harder faced continued sniper and machine gun fire, as well and horrific rip-currents along the reef.  The crew used a rubber raft to cross the reef and retrieve the pilot.  Without his and his crew’s extraordinary efforts, the pilot would have fallen into enemy hands.

In the end, Commander Dealey simply took the fight to the enemy.  He was well aware of the danger he faced with the tactics he used.  Though successful as they were, sadly, USS Harder was lost to enemy action during her sixth war patrol with a loss of all hands aboard, including Commander Dealey.

While much controversy surrounds the reasons for this sixth patrol, nothing can diminish the bravery and sacrifice of men such as Commander Dealey and his crew.  They join the fifty-one other submarines, 374 officers, and 3131 men lost in World War II.  During the war, the US Submarine Service lost a higher percentage of men and any other service.  Remarkably, the entire service only made up 1.6% of the sailors in the US Navy but accounted for over 54% of Japanese ships sunk.  The submariners of World War II put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis.  Commander Dealey exemplifies the spirit and love of country these special men had, to borrow from Winston Churchill “Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners.” 

During his time as Captain of Harder, Commander Dealey was awarded the Navy Cross with three gold stars, the army’s Distinguished Service Cross (presented to him by Gen. Douglas MacArthur), two presidential unit citations, and a Purple Heart, all in addition to the Medal of Honor.  He was responsible for sinking over 15,000 tons (16 ships) and damaging over 27,000 tons of enemy shipping.

Today, if you visit the submarine base in New London, you will see most buildings are named to honor a hero of the submarine fleet.  Dealey Center, the base cinema complex, is named in honor of Commander Dealey and dedicated to the memory of him, his crew and the USS Harder.

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