Published 10:43 am Friday, May 24, 2019

By William Baker

Contributing Columnist

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live in a country that had no heroes?

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Centuries ago the Roman statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, wrote “Poor is the nation that has no heroes.” He lived from 106 to 43 BC, but his message carries meaning to those of us who live in the United States in 2019.

When Americans pause on Memorial Day to honor heroes who served valiantly in the military, they will be acknowledging the richness we enjoy because of the sacrifices of others. Many families in the tri-state area will be acknowledging their own kin, their neighbors, or friends who died fighting for the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

Since 1971, the observance of Memorial Day has been a national holiday. Many sources indicate the tributes to those who died in the Civil War laid the foundation for this special day.

It was during the Civil War that Mary Edwards Walker, an army surgeon who had graduated from Syracuse Medical School, sought a position with the Union army but was rejected. She volunteered anyway, earning a spot as acting assistant surgeon – a first for the U. S. Army.

She was captured by Union troops and imprisoned for half a year in Richmond, Va.

In November 1865, President Andrew Johnson signed a bill that awarded her the Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service citing her work with sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and in hospitals. Walker was not a Kentucky native, but her home of record was Louisville.

Another Medal of Honor recipient, Sergeant Alvin York, is much better known as a war hero who also received the Medal of Honor. Born in Pall Mall, Tennessee, York was drafted into the Army in 1917 and became a legendary hero of the First World War and one of the best- known heroes in American history.

York joined the 82nd Division and went to France in 1918. He was one of a group of 17 soldiers assigned to infiltrate German lines. After a major battle, York and the men who survived captured more than 130 of the enemy. When the news of his leadership became widespread, he became a national hero and international celebrity. Later the movie “Sergeant York” starring Gary Cooper further capitalized on his great valor in a great war.

A much younger war hero, Jacklyn Harold Lucas, was born in North Carolina but his home of record is Norfolk, Va. He served in the U. S. Marine Corps and received the Medal of Honor for actions during World War II. The honor came just five days after his 17th birthday.

He had already been in the Marines for three years before his true age was revealed. Lucas became the youngest hero in the twentieth century to be awarded the Medal of Honor, a tribute to his heroic sacrifices at Iwo Jima in February 1945.

This trio of past American heroes join those known heroes from the tri-state area as Memorial Day 2019 is observed.