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Column: Let’s celebrate real heroes in our lives

Independence Day: a time to celebrate heroes and family.
Last week’s Charlotte Symphony concert in Village Park was a perfect chance to do both. The weather was splendid, the music beautiful and passionate. A wonderful audience of locals and visitors made the night alive with energy.
Only one thing soured the evening for me.
Before the show, Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills took to the stage to tell the story of two “unlikely heroes.”
He talked of the little-known military career of actor Lee Marvin, which is true ó Marvin served in the U.S. Marine Corps, received a Purple Heart and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
But Mills also recounted the military careers of children’s TV legends Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, and Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Both men, the story goes, were highly-decorated vets who kept their military service under wraps. It’s said that Rogers wore long sleeves on TV to hide his “many tattoos.”
Problem is, that part of the story simply isn’t true. The Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers rumors have been disavowed numerous times over the last decade.
The popular urban myth Web site Snopes.com has the true facts: Keeshan enlisted, but never served in battle. Rogers never wore a military uniform.
Both men were heroes, but the stories told about them last week are false.
Gary Mills is a genuinely nice man who works hard for the people of Kannapolis. I’m not out to get him here. Truth be told, I was more embarrassed for him than angry.
But this story could have been easily checked out in a few minutes’ time spent looking up the facts online, and a lot of people would have been better informed as a result.
When things like this happen, I cannot help but feel they are symptoms of a larger and worrying trend in American society.
Americans have a syndrome which is a product of our modern sound-bite culture: We gravitate toward feel-good moments more often than those that challenge us to feel pain.
More people would rather hear stories of those who fought glorious battles and marched home with medals gleaming than deal with the realities of war and the impact on the lives of these brave men and women who served.
We the people of the United States are easily distracted by glory.
Our corporate overlords know this. That’s why they think a waving American flag is the trick to selling everything from pickup trucks to beer to breakfast cereal.
Our elected leaders in Washington know it. They think that if they come back to the district once in a while, shake a few hands and sing “God Bless America” at a rally, we’ll forget their votes against giving health coverage to sick kids and in favor of policies that continue to make corporations richer and working Americans poorer.
I offer up a solution to this problem in three simple words: Don’t sit quietly.
The more we speak up and honor what is truthful, the more blessed our nation will be.
And the more we challenge what we hear, even when we see it online or, yes, even in the newspaper, the richer and more truly free our lives will become.
A case in point: I got to talk to a real hero on Wednesday night before the concert ó one of many.
He’s an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. He and his wife live in Mt. Pleasant. He’s a quiet, unassuming man.
I can’t give his name here because I didn’t let him know I was a reporter. I was there as a spectator and I just wanted to hear his story.
The man had stood before the show when veterans were asked to rise, and he stood solemnly while the audience applauded his service and that of many others.
He talked to me in quiet tones about fighting in Vietnam, the toil of it … and the long time it took for him to be comfortable back home.
He said he still has trouble being in confined spaces ó a lingering effect of the war so long ago.
I thanked him for serving. And I couldn’t help but feel that it would do a lot of people good to hear the true stories of our local heroes.
With those freedoms comes ó or ought to come ó responsibility.
We have a responsibility to honor the true heroes in our lives before we go trying to create new ones out of whole cloth.
We need to be sure that what we celebrate on July 4, and every day we live as Americans, is what is true and real. We need to be sure that we don’t trip over ourselves trying for a feel-good moment and lose sight of the truth.
Keep that in mind the next time you get a story in your e-mail inbox that sounds “too good to be true.”
And keep it in mind the next time someone next to you seems like he or she might have a story to tell. You will be surprised at the very real heroes you will meet. Trust me ó they are all around us.

For more information on these urban legends, or to check out any rumor you’re not sure about, visit the Urban Legends Reference Pages at www.snopes.com.

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