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8 NATIONAL LEGENDS AND HEROES
Every country celebrates its national heroes. Their feats often become exaggerated over time and become works of fiction. What may have been simple human kindness become stretched into extraordinary powers of mind control; even our villains are raised to levels of superhuman strength and whit.
In the United States, the legendary specimens come from real and imagined men and women. Some exceeded the limits of human belief, and others merely fabricated the feats of these mere mortals through oral histories or dime store novels. Whatever the truth, we wove them into the framework of our history and our bedtime tales.
These characters inspired some of us so much that our imaginations ran wild. They morphed into urban legends or lept off the colorful pages of comic books. In our neverending ability to embellish and create, we merged stories and a mixed up new villains with modern heroes and heroines to shield from the masses.
However, entangled in the reality of everyday events, we experience and understand the courage and fortitude real heroes require. Their humble character doesn’t allow us to apply the term to them. Yet, we look for them to inspire us and reassure us from time to time of the good in the world. They are another reason to Celebrate Every Day®.
Each one has an intriguing background, regardless of their heritage. National Day Calendar® takes a look at the legends and the heroes of the past and present – real and imagined, some more celebrated than others.
1. Paul Bunyan – The giant lumberjack who towered an unmeasurable 63 ax handles tall can be found in legends from coast to coast. Whether we start with the number of storks it took to delivery the infant Paul in Maine or explain the creation of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes or even how he built Mt. Hood in Oregon with his own hands, Paul Bunyan tales are tall.
It’s believed two real lumberjacks of French-Canadian descent may have been merged in the consciousness of American folklore to create Paul Bunyan.
After the American Civil War, Fabian Fournier made his 6-foot appearance when he joined a Michigan logging crew as their foreman. His rowdy ways soon had rumors flying. Not only did his power and strength send his reputation ahead of him, but his heavy drinking and fighting led to his death one night in 1875. The event and the sensational trial afterward only fueled his legendary abilities.
Another French-Canadian lumberjack by the name of Bon Jean played a heroic role in Quebec’s farmer uprising of 1837.
The combination of the two men’s stories may have eventually blended into the folklore hero we know today.
2. Johnny Appleseed – This folklore hero existed. His pioneering ways from Pennsylvania to Illinois and maybe even further west, have been well documented. He’s legendary for the sheer number of trees he planted. John Chapman’s efforts to plant apple and pear trees helped settle the west and establish sturdy orchard stock for the type of climate that existed in these areas.
3. Molly Pitcher – The woman known as Molly Pitcher encompasses the women who carried water for the troops during the American Revolution. These women often stepped forward to take over the duties of the soldiers during battle. The Molly Pitchers that make up this legendary name are namely Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley and Margaret Corbin.
Hays McCauley carried water for her husband’s artillery battalion at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. When her husband became wounded, Hays McCauley replaced him, loading the cannon.
Corbin’s heroics took place in 1776 after her husband was killed at Fort Washington. She too took over at the cannon and was seriously wounded.
The Molly Pitchers of the American Revolution were the first women into battle, stepping forward to serve their nation.
4. Harriet Tubman – In 1820, this hero was born into slavery. Harriet Tubman’s life as a slave was harsh and unforgiving. By 1849, she escaped northward and would pursue freedom for others through the complexities of the Underground Railroad. As a conductor, Tubman would save nearly 300 lives, including her own family. During the Civil War, she spied for the North, and her knowledge of plants and herbal remedies came to the aid of wounded and ill soldiers.
Her heroism came in many forms. She advocated for women’s right to vote, despite being illiterate. Tubman died March 10, 1913, before the 19th Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote.
5. John Henry – John Henry – The real-life John Henry built railroads through the mountains from West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania in the 1870s. Many folksongs in the American culture weave the tales of legendary characters, real and imagined. In the case of John Henry, a little embellishment goes a long way. Several hammer songs and ballads tell the tale of John Henry’s life and death. While Henry’s size and strength were legendary, his ability to work faster and longer than any other steel driver made him memorable. When pitted against a machine, John Henry would win the race, but lose his life.
6.Law Enforcement – In 2013, Officers Raymond Marr and Clarence Gunter (Braddock, PA) and Sgt. Frank Barreiro (Braddock, PA) and Officer Brennan Thrower (Rankin, PA) pulled Lavonda Pompey from her burning apartment. With no gear and no visibility, Marr and Gunter arrived on the scene before the fire department. Barreiro and Thrower arrived later and aided in getting the unconscious Pompey safely out of the building.
The men and women across our nation who wear the shield, whether at the local, state, or national level, serve to protect.
A lot of good men and women put on the badge every day. Every day, they step out into the communities they’ve sworn to serve and protect. Many of these neighborhoods are the very same communities their families live and work. They step out into the unknown. An uneventful day may be rare, as the news tells us.
They’re trained to defuse hostile situations, to be first responders in an emergency, analyze and react instantly if the situation demands. Their jobs are stressful, demanding, and public. In an instant, an officer can save a life, and their life can be changed.
7. Service men and women – United States Marine, Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter, is the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient. His actions during an enemy attack saved the life of a fellow Marine. National Medal of Honor Day is March 19.
Carpenter and thousands of military personnel wear their uniforms never expecting recognition for the service they provide. These heroes often come home wounded, and their scars are not always on the outside.
We honor them in various ways throughout the year. Armed Forces Day in May, recognizes all the who serve in the military. On Memorial Day, we recognize military personnel who died protecting our freedoms. Purple Heart Day is August 7th, and Day of the Deployed is October 26th. On Veteran’s Day, we recognize all former military servicemen and women. Several other days throughout the year commemorate specific dates in military history or recognize family members who support our service members.
8. Astronaut – In 1978, Sally Ride’s application beat out thousands of others for a slot in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s astronaut program. The selection would launch Sally Ride into space on June 18, making her the first American woman in space.
Ride’s interest in science fostered by her parents propelled her toward a physics degree. Her athletic ability kept her physically fit. Her achievements with NASA inspired a generation of girls and young women around the world. Many dream of being astronauts and S.T.E.M and S.T.E.A.M studies are necessary to attain the goal. Anyone who spurs dreamers to action is a hero in our books.
9 Firefighter – Matt Holladay – In Cocoa, Florida, as in any local fire department, there are heroes. The men and women who show up every day and night for their shift, through every season – they may not earn a legendary story in a dime novel, but they’re meet the standards of folklore; exceeding human strength and endurance, placing others before themselves, upholding a set of standards many would find difficult to achieve.
On July 25, 2013, Matt Holladay did just that when he rescued 70-year-old Jeffie “Honey” Sanders from her home. It had become a burning inferno and one neighbor, Joe Bradley, had already played a role in ensuring the safety of her grandchildren.
Around the country and world, firefighters go to work never knowing what risks they will find. They train for every possible scenario, but there are no guarantees. Whether they fight wildfires or hazardous material fires, house or apartment fires, the variables change every day. Their training supports and tools go into their ability to do their jobs well and to provide the best services to their communities.
Small communities across the nation rely on volunteer fire departments. Each firefighter, in every department, is owed a debt of gratitude for the long hours and dedication. They are unsung heroes and genuinely worthy of recognition.