Okay, I'm in the middle of reading The Great Deluge, a book by David Brinkley. (Yeah, I'm writing too, but I'm at 10k, I can take some time off to read.) It covers the period from August 27 to September 2, 2005 in and around Louisiana and Mississippi. In case there are any of you blinking at those dates, I'm taking about the immediate days prior to and the week after Hurricane Katrina struck. I had been recommended the book by a friend, and it's hard reading, but it's also interesting. Brinkley doesn't pull any punches, pointing out faults at all levels of government.
But right now I'm reading the section about the Coast Guard. Now, we all know that the Coast Guard went way above and beyond the call of duty, flying rescue missions day and night, and in the end singlehandely saving a large amount of people who otherwise would have perished.
Now here's the part of the story you may not have known, directly from Brinkley's book:
So many of these Coast Guard youngsters had lost their homes. Lost everything. A one-hundred dollar bill would have meant a lot to them. But they continued to perform, hovering over floodwater in helicopters and saving Katrina victims from roofs. "You know," [Coast Guard Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Jimmy] Duckworth later said, echoing [NOPD second in command] Warren Riley, "God bless our GIs working overseas. But when they go to sleep and no matter how bad it is, there's a home somewhere. There's a home and you've got a mental picture of your house and it exists. It's a reality. A focal point of your life. To watch these Coast Guard people work after Katrina, knowing that home is no more, was humbling. They never -- not one of them -- put themselves first. I'm proud. That's the best I can say."
I was inclined to call the Coasties heroes before this. But with the knowledge that they were doing it despite their own personal tragedies -- that, my friends, is the truest definition of heroism I can think of. And I can only hope you agree.