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Friday, February 9, 2018

Heroes Among Us

Photo taken from Fort Delgres, Guadeloupe, the city of Basse Terre below.
I’ve known a hero or two in my lifetime.  I’m sure you have too—someone who went above and beyond what was expected…who gave more than they were paid to give.  
Basse Terre today

Their actions were driven by reasons that were selfless and noble and required great courage; most likely went beyond what I would have done in that same situation, but of course, I don’t know that for certain until I’ve been put to that test. Maybe after such a test, I would not be around to be congratulated afterward, as is true of so many heroes.
Fort Delgres, PKA Fort Charles in 1802

This is a story of a true hero.  He was bold. Daring. Doggedly determined. And ultimately willing to sacrifice himself for the larger good. A man to be remembered over the centuries.

Fort Delgres is an enormous fort with many levels
His name was Louis Delgres and the year was 1802.  He was biracial, or mulatto as he would have been called in those days; his father a white Frenchman and his mother, a black woman on the French island of Martinique where he was born in 1766.  He was born a free man, was well educated and chose a military life.  
Entrance into Fort Delgres

When the French National Assembly abolished slavery on the French Caribbean islands in 1794, he was fully supportive of that action.  In his capacity within the military he was instrumental in dismissing the white French civil servants thereby allowing the free blacks to govern themselves. 

The fort encompasses the entire peak of the mountain
A few years later, during the French Revolution, Napolean came into power and decided it would be more advantageous for his coffers to reinstate slavery in the French islands.  Thus, he sent his army to the French island of Guadeloupe for that purpose.  In spite of having become an officer of high rank in the French army, Delgres then led a force of black troops (men and women) of Guadeloupe to fight against Napolean’s strong forces. Remarkably, he and his poorly armed followers held off the French army for 18 days at Fort Charles, in Basse Terre, on Guadeloupe.  

A bombed fort
He must have known they would not/could not possibly prevail.  Not against the might of Napolean’s army.  When he was wounded, he devised a plan that would hasten his own demise but with the intent of furthering the cause for which he fought. He had his followers set charges leading from the remaining munitions stocks to his injured body where he alone controlled the detonation. 
One of the levels of Fort Delgres

As he lay dying, he allowed time for the attempted escape of 400 of his troops through a hidden underground tunnel.  As Napolean’s troops stormed into the fort, he blew himself up along with as many of those French soldiers as possible. Not a happy ending to a story, clearly.
A secret tunnel exited the fort toward the river below.

Delgres’ choices were not based upon a paycheck, nor the temptation of elevated social status, but rather upon what he knew to be right and true. Although his actions did not prevent the reinstatement of slavery, that fact does not detract from his legacy and the respect his memory is due.

Louis Delgres, military hero.  The people's hero
Perhaps we tend to believe that heroes are few and far between.  I like to think that they walk among us—they are right in front of our noses.  We meet them on the street and cannot see anything remarkable on their faces.  They go about their days without calling attention to themselves.  They wake up, put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else and go off to work or to whatever tasks that are before them every day.
A Lutheran congregation with new organ, southeastern MN.  Note: Baptismal gown on the right.

There are heroes of all kinds, I think.  They are in our families. For example, a great grandmother who went out to draw water from the well while preparing dinner to feed the threshing crew. 
Great grandmother

While at the well, she went into labor. She delivered the healthy baby by herself, tucked the baby under one arm and picked up the water bucket with the other and returned to the cabin to finish making the dinner.  Sometimes just to survive is heroic. Remember all the heroes that came before you in your families.
Grandpa and my teenaged mother plowing with two single plows

There was my grandfather whose barn and team of horses were destroyed in a fire started by two of his children playing with matches in the barn.  The confirmed story is that he neither chastised his two young sons, nor looked at them in anger or treated them any differently after what was surely an overwhelming devastation in the 1940’s.  

Was such behavior not heroism just as much as going off to war?  I think so.  No one would have begrudged my grandfather some anger, some bitterness and yet…..he remained kind and loving to all of his children, and to everyone he met throughout his lifetime. A gem of a man and quiet hero.
My nephew and his daughter, painted by an Afghani

Then there is my nephew who was sent off to fight in the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq.  Four times he was ripped away from his family. He completed a total of 27 months living in danger every single day.  He became a strong leader for his men to rely upon.  Someone that could shore up the 18 and 19 year olds when days and nights became long and terrifying.  Someone who fought to pull young people back from self-destruction when the anxiety and horror of living in a place where any day may be the last became too much to bear.  
Corey Kampschroer, quiet hero

And then, and then, as if war was not enough to survive, he was sent to New Orleans to recover the bloated bodies from the floodwaters after Katrina.  

How do our men and women recover from such traumas? How do we thank them enough for doing the things that no one wants to do?  Could we possibly pay them enough for these sacrifices? No. Nor do we even attempt to do so, for which I should hang my head in sorrow when I look squarely at my life of relative safety.  Heroes.  They live among us.  They are everywhere around us. 

My brother on left
Police men and women, firefighters, Coast Guard, soldiers, people who dive into the water to rescue someone they don’t even know; not performers because they’re glamorous, nor football players because they’re “stars,” not wealthy people because they’re powerful and not politicians unless they go out on a limb to do what's right for you and me.  Today and everyday I want to live a life that honors those who sacrifice for us.  All of our heroes. 
A service to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice

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