Heroes: When the Worst of Events Bring Out the Best in People
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Mario Ritter. Every society has its heroes. This week on our program, we present several stories of heroism in action.
We start in New York City earlier this month -- January fourth, to be exact. Two friends, Julio Gonzalez and Pedro Nevarez, were standing on the street talking. Suddenly, people in a nearby apartment building screamed for help.
A three-year-old boy was hanging from the steps of the fire escape outside the building. Timothy Addo was twelve meters above the ground, and scared.
The men saw that he was going to fall. The two mechanics ran across the street and positioned themselves to catch him.
They got there just in time. Timothy lost his hold and dropped. His feet hit Mr. Nevarez and pushed him over onto the sidewalk. But the little boy landed in the arms of Mr. Gonzalez, who also fell. Timothy was shaken by the experience, but he was safe.
Experts in human behavior tell us that some situations bring out the best in people. But something made this event all the more newsworthy. Just two days earlier, New York City had another accidental hero.
Wesley Autrey is a ten-year member of the Construction and General Building Laborers union. Construction workers have to think fast: one wrong move and they might fall off a building.
But his act of heroism took place underground. The fifty-year-old former Navy sailor was waiting for a subway train in Harlem. He was with his two young daughters, ages four and six.
Mr. Autrey and two women waiting for the train saw that a young man nearby appeared to be having a seizure. They tried to help him, but the man fell onto the tracks.
Wesley Autrey saw the light of an oncoming train. Still, he threw himself down, onto the man, in the space between the rails. It was too late for the train to stop. Several of the cars rolled over them, close enough to Mr. Autrey's head to leave a grease mark on his hat.
His two daughters watched in terror as all this happened. But their father and the man he had just saved were safe. And lucky. A little more than a half-meter separated the ground from the underside of the train. In some systems, the trains ride closer to the rail bed.
Wesley Autrey received the city's highest honor, the Bronze Medallion. Said Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "His courageous rescue of a complete stranger is a reminder of how we are surrounded by everyday heroes in New York City."
Businessman Donald Trump presented Mr. Autrey with ten thousand dollars. And there have been other rewards and honors.
But Wesley Autrey says he is not a hero. In his words: "What I did is something that any and every New Yorker should do."
Last Tuesday, the "Subway Superhero" and his two daughters were in Washington. They were among the guests of first lady Laura Bush as the president gave his State of the Union speech to Congress.
Less than two weeks after Wesley Autrey's act of bravery, Daniel Fitzpatrick saved a woman in the New York subway. The woman may have been trying to kill herself.
Daniel Fitzpatrick is an emergency medical technician with the New York Fire Department. But the thirty-eight-year-old rescuer was off duty when he saw the woman walk down a subway catwalk. The catwalk passes close to the trains.
Mr. Fitzpatrick followed the woman even though a train was coming. He pressed her against a wall. The woman was large and struggling. He kept hold of her. But there was another problem: his head was in the path of the oncoming train.
Luckily, another man who had been talking to Mr. Fitzpatrick ran after him and held his head back, out of the way of the train. The woman was taken to a hospital.
Daniel Fitzpatrick used to be a finance officer in business. He says he decided to change careers when he saw rescuers at work after hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center in two thousand one.
This month was the twenty-fifth anniversary of a plane crash during a snowstorm in Washington, D.C. On January thirteenth, nineteen eighty-two, a passenger plane hit a bridge over the Potomac River.
The plane had just taken off for Florida. With it wings weighed down with ice, the plane failed to climb quickly enough. It crashed into Fourteenth Street Bridge and then dropped into the Potomac. Parts of the river were covered in ice.
Seventy-nine passengers and crew were on the flight. Only five of them survived. Four people on the bridge were also killed.
One of the passengers on the plane came to be called the "unknown hero." He could have been saved, but he repeatedly handed a helicopter rescue line to others. Then, when the helicopter came back for him, he was gone in the icy waters.
The unknown hero was later identified as Arland Williams Junior, a bank examiner. He was the only victim of the Air Florida crash whose death was blamed on drowning.
The bridge was renamed in his honor. And President Ronald Reagan presented the Coast Guard's Gold Lifesaving Medal to the family of Arland Williams.
Someone else who received a Gold Lifesaving Medal was Roger Olian, a sheet-metal worker in Washington. Roger Olian jumped into the river with the end of a lifeline that people on shore had made out of clothes and other materials.
Unable to see through the snowstorm, he followed the screams of the survivors. He reached people hanging onto the broken tail of the plane.
The storm and heavy traffic slowed the arrival of emergency services.
Don Usher was a helicopter pilot with the United States Park Police. He flew close to the water and ice, through the blinding snow, to look for survivors. With him was Gene Windsor, a Park Police officer with special medical training.
It was almost impossible to see. But they rescued two people who could hold onto the helicopter lifeline long enough to be pulled to shore. Mr. Windsor also jumped into the water to save one woman too weak to hold the line.
The National Transportation Safety Board recognized the actions of the only crew member who survived the crash. Flight attendant Kelly Duncan gave the only flotation device she could find to someone else.
From the side of the river, a federal worker named Lenny Skutnik saw another woman in the water. He jumped into the river, swam to her and got her to shore.
The rescue was filmed and shown on the news. Two weeks later, President Reagan introduced Lenny Skutnik during his State of the Union speech to Congress.
Mr. Skutnik received a Gold Lifesaving Medal from the Coast Guard. But to this day, as he told the Washington Post, he says he was not a hero, just someone who helped another human being.
On January eleventh, at the White House, President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to the parents of Marine Corporal Jason Dunham. The Medal of Honor is the military's highest award for bravery.
Corporal Dunham died in April of two thousand four during a fight with an attacker in western Iraq, near the Syrian border. As they struggled, Corporal Dunham saw a hand grenade that was about to explode.
He jumped on it to save other Marines. He used his helmet and his body to try to contain the explosion. He died of his wounds a week later. But the president said Corporal Dunham saved the lives of two of his men.
Mr. Bush also noted that Corporal Dunham had signed on for two extra months in Iraq to stay with the Marines under his command.
Corporal Jason Dunham of Scio, New York, was twenty-two years old. He was the second person to receive a Medal of Honor in the Iraq war. The first was Army Sergeant Paul Smith, killed in two thousand three. He was organizing a defense to protect other soldiers from an attack near Baghdad International Airport.
In two thousand five, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman soldier since World War Two to receive the Silver Star. She earned it as a military police officer in Iraq with the Kentucky National Guard. Sergeant Hester helped lead a defense against a large group of attackers.
That same battle led to a Bronze Star for another woman in the Kentucky National Guard. Specialist Ashley Pullen risked her life to help severely wounded soldiers under fire.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Mario Ritter.
And I'm Barbara Klein. Be sure to join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.