I wrote this back In January here, in a post called "What is a hero?" Here's a paste:
Those who know me here are aware I was a US Army Colonel. I recommended and approved soldiers to be awarded medals for military service & bravery (though some medals required higher authority than mine). So allow that I have at least a basic understanding of the concept.
Let me tell you about another kind of bravery, that is not military. I met a gay man in Seattle, Washington, in 1995. I knew at first glance he was dying of AIDS, which he told me had.
He was already on Social Security disability. Yet he volunteered to work at Chicken Soup Brigade (CSB), which was a major provider of food & services to the Seattle AIDS community at that time.
He would deliver donated groceries to the AIDS shut-ins with his own car at his own expense, cleaned their homes, ran their errands for them, and took them to their medical appointments. Even though he himself was entitled to receive these very same services from CSB, dying & enfeebled as he was, yet he did this for others.
And on those days when he didn't even have the strength to drive his car all around town, or climb apartment stairs, he would sit at the CSB desk and answer their phones. He also wrote & edited articles about AIDS issues for a Seattle gay newspaper.
Shortly after I finally met him in person (he was my online gay mentor who brought me out) his old car broke down, and he started to withdraw from the community, unable to get around and visit the AIDS shut-ins he helped, so that he was becoming a shut-in himself.
I personally fixed that car (I was once an auto mechanic), so he could return to his former active life, And in turn he made me his pet project, to bring me out into the gay world. And through him I learned most of what I know about being gay, lessons I treasure and follow to this day.
Together we visited every corner of gay Seattle, and a better gay mentor never existed. All that I am today in the gay world is his doing.
And he made me redefine my strict military definition of a hero. If doing for others when you are dying yourself is a hero, then he was one. If doing for others when you haven't the strength to even leave your own house is a hero, then he was one.
I not only learned about being gay from him, I learned something about my own former business, that of bravery & heroism. Heroism is when you face death, and you keep going. Heroism is when death is less important to you than obtaining some other goal. Heroism is when death no longer stops you.
I saw that among those who wore a military uniform, and I saw that in him, and in our own gay community. My understanding of heroism has become much broader than it was first taught to me, and I've learned it's not all about wearing a uniform.
Heroism is inside you, not on the outside and defined by what you wear. And while those who put on a uniform are heroes by choice, others are heroes by circumstance. I never was so proud of being gay as when I learned what heroes gay men can be, much braver than I myself had ever been, regardless of any green outfit I had ever worn.
My heroes are gay men, the men all around me. That is what makes a hero.