Recent Op-Eds

We are all introduced to the idea of heroes at a very young age. In school, students study history and literature where examples of men and women doing great deeds are used to inspire and to educate about important lessons of morality and life. Even much of what entertains us in youth, like movies and comic books, are built around heroes; some that have special powers, some that do not.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on those heroes in our lives who do not possess the ability to leap over tall buildings or see through walls, but those who do extraordinary things in the course of everyday life. I doubt there are many in South Dakota or anywhere in our nation whose lives have not been touched by someone doing far more than they are called to do.

We have recently been stirred by the images of the airliner that was forced to land in the Hudson River near New York City. The examples of everyday people doing great things without a second thought are numerous: the pilot who carefully executed a forced water landing to avoid crashing in a densely populated area, the ferry captains who turned their boats toward the slowly sinking plane, and the passengers and crew who helped each other to safety.

What makes these kind of occurrences so extraordinary is that the people involved would never dream of referring to themselves as heroes. Nonetheless, what we witnessed this month was miraculous, and all of those who worked so hard to save lives deserve our appreciation and respect.

On January 17th, I will have the honor of travelling to Aberdeen to meet Alvina Pettigrew, who served in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) organization during World War II. Alvina was born on a farm near Mina, South Dakota, and following a unique kind of service to our nation, returned to Aberdeen.

In the course of answering her nation's call, Alvina worked at the Naval Communications Annex in Washington, DC, where she and other women intercepted and deciphered secret Nazi naval commands. Her work saved the lives of many sailors and significantly aided the Allied effort to restore freedom to Europe, all because she answered the call to do something heroic.

It will be my great privilege to present Alvina with an oil portrait of her painted by celebrated artist Cynthia Berry. A reproduction of the painting decorates a historic emergency callbox in Washington, DC which serves as a memorial to the WAVES who worked in secret at the nearby Naval Communications Annex.

It is not only by paintings and monuments that we remember our heroes. The lessons we learn from both great and ordinary people doing extraordinary things are passed on in our history, our family traditions, and indeed in the very fabric of our culture. There are heroes all around us, and it is worth our time to recognize just how important they are.