04/18/06 — Heroism: Wilson Eagleson and others helped change world

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Heroism: Wilson Eagleson and others helped change world

Every day across America we are losing heroes.

Sometimes we do not even realize they are gone — or just exactly how much their efforts changed the world in which we live. They are mourned by families — and sometimes communities — but not with the fanfare or significance they deserve.

It is a testament to the courage and honor of their generation that there are so many this nation cannot possibly thank each individually. And it is sad that for many of us, we do not truly understand the enormity of what we have lost.

As the members of the Greatest Generation age, they take with them stories of a time when love of country and the duty to protect it took precedence over personal liberty and safety.

Even for those who stayed home and manned the factories, the work was important, secret and historic.

And then there are the heroes, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose call was much more risky, much more dangerous.

Wilson Eagleson was one of those heroes. A member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, he not only did battle over the skies of Europe, but he also broke barriers in his own country at a time when the civil rights movement was nothing more than a thought.

A unit of black pilots and crew with an impeccable battle record, the Airmen distinguished themselves as fierce warriors and skilled pilots — even without much of the training or attention paid to other fliers.

And they were the first step toward equal treatment for men and women of all races — even before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream.

Mr. Eagleson had stories of war, courage and heroism that will live on in the children and grandchildren who mourn his passing. They will tell his story — and share his memories with the men and women who count service with the Tuskegee Airmen as part of their histories.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should forget him or the impact he had on his country.

When there is the chance to take the easy way out, to turn our heads when there is a wrong that needs to be righted, we should remember Wilson Eagleson and how he stood tall when the standing was difficult.

When we are counting our blessings and remembering that there is a price to be paid for freedom — we should remember Mr. Eagleson and the thousands of others who did not shirk their duty when it was time to protect it.

And as we study World War II and subsequent events in world history, we should remember that we stand on the shoulders of others. We should live up to the example they set as we make decisions for ourselves and future generations. It is our turn to carry the torch.

Published in Editorials on April 18, 2006 9:15 AM