Reflections on Heroism

Several times during the memorial service for Captain Ian Patrick Weikel, his friends and family referred to him as a "hero." Captain Weikel was killed on April 18th when his Humvee ran over a roadside bomb in Iraq. He was Commander "Ghost 6" A Troop, 7-10 Cavalry of the 4th Infantry Division, a father, son and husband. And there is no doubt: Captain Weikel was a hero.

Captain Weikel, 31, his wife Wendy and their infant son — originally from Colorado Springs — had been "adopted" by Temple Bible Church — a church located near the sprawling Fort Hood military reservation. I didn’t know the family, but like hundreds of other members of that congregation, I attended the service to show respect.

With tears flowing freely, friends and family who knew Ian best told the rest of us about him and what kind of a person he was. He was a West Point graduate who had served in Bosnia and was serving his second tour in Iraq. He loved his family, his country and his God. He was said to have carried a list of his men with him at all times so he could pray for their safety. He also carried scans of ultrasound images of his new son. Jonathan, now just eight months old, will not remember his father, but he will be told of Ian’s wonderful legacy.

I was struck by many things at this service including the military roll call during which the name "Captain Ian Weikel" was answered by a rifle volley. And there was the last line of Ian’s biography in the church bulletin: "It was not the way Ian died that made him a hero; it was the way he lived."

The word "hero" has been co-opted, twisted, mangled, misused, maligned and misapplied. Michael Jordan was deemed a hero for playing in a basketball game even though he was ill. Vince Young was called a hero for his accomplishments in the Rose Bowl. Even George H.W. Bush once commented that he never felt he was a hero for being shot down over the Pacific in World War II.

President Bush is right. It wasn’t his being shot down that made him heroic but rather the fact that he was willing to put his own life on the line for someone else.

And so a service such as this one really makes you stop and think. Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in the war, and Congressman John Murtha, himself a decorated veteran, both are critics of the war. Do their contentions that Bush "misled" us into this war outweigh the truths that Saddam Hussein spat in the face of seventeen United Nation resolutions, and that spreading democracy in the Middle East may be the only way to avoid an all-out war with radical Islam?

There’s another point of view that sums up our mission in Iraq better than I ever could:

"No sacrifice is easy and the loss of every soldier is heart wrenching. However, the liberty of 26 million people is worth it. The Iraqi people were under the boot of an oppressive and ruthless regime. When we have the means and political will we must act.

"A large amount of the population is under the age of 18. The guys on patrol can attest to this as they’re mobbed daily by the ‘munchkin brigades’ demanding chocolate and soccer balls. You see these children and can’t help but feel that their future is worth it.

"It’s an uncertain future fraught with danger and the pitfalls of an emerging government with no democratic tradition and sectarian tension. It’s an uphill battle, and they’re fighting against all odds to succeed…incredibly difficult odds.

"That doesn’t mean we should give up on them or turn our back on the efforts and sacrifice of the past three years. The new Iraq is an underdog and Americans traditionally love an underdog. Don’t forget that about 230 years ago, we were fighting for our freedom against all odds. Over our history we’ve had to overcome a civil war, world wars, and nuclear annihilation. Over our history we’ve saved millions of lives from around the globe through our willingness to act on behalf of our fellow man."

These are the words of the late Captain Ian Weikel, taken from his website. I thank Captain Weikel and his family for their sacrifice. Captain Ian Weikel is a hero.