Is "hero" overused?

El Paso firefighters battle a 1977 fire.

The word “hero” is bandied about quite a bit these days. Some might even say the term is tossed about too freely. The nine firefighters who were killed in Charleston, S.C., are among the latest to be pronounced heroes.

Since 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, the public refers to all military personnel and emergency services workers as heroes. But I am willing to bet a majority of those engaged in such occupations do not see themselves as such.

Certainly, I never saw myself as hero when I braved paper cuts as a legal secretary in the Navy. Nor did I do anything particularly heroic other than my job during the five years I worked as a firefighter. During those times — in the late 1970s — the public did not have use “hero” to describe service members, firemen and cops. In fact, some people held those who wore any kind of uniform in contempt thanks to the Vietnam war.

That’s not to say I was ever spat upon when wearing either the uniform of a firefighter or a sailor. Well, perhaps a baby or two spit up on me. And, for better or worse for me, there was that whole “love-a-man-in-uniform” thing sometimes in the small college town where I worked as a fireman.

But I wouldn’t hesitate to say that most the people I have known either in the military or fire services would have ever thought themselves as heroic. It was just what they did or do.

The nine Charleston firefighters died looking for people who others thought were trapped inside the building. So I wouldn’t at all say it was a stretch to call them heroes.

Words which are used excessively lose their vitality after time. Calling everyone who faces death by signing the dotted line and donning a uniform a hero might someday dampen the impact of really heroic deeds. On the other hand, there are a lot worse heroes one might worship than the men and women who put their life on the line for others.

Click here for more information from the city of Charleston’s Web page, which includes where one might donate to the fund established for the families of the fallen firefighters.

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