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Portraits of Forgotten Heroes

By now everyone has heard about “Caitlyn” and her(?) transformation from man to woman. She(?) is being lauded as a hero by many, from the President of the United States to ESPN to any number of those whose life work is to redefine sexuality by broadening the definition of gender.

At the risk of being accused of bigotry, I’m going to state here un-categorically that I see nothing heroic about spending a fortune to alter your body in a desperate attempt to find wholeness. I don’t believe there’s anything natural about it. I don’t think one can point to any scientific data that suggests a human being must be altered surgically in order to become complete, as if nature needed the assistance of modern medicine to correct and complete its creations.

I do not hate “Caitlyn.” In fact, I have more in common with her(?) than I am comfortable with. As a Christian I believe that a fundamental dissatisfaction with who we are and the way the world is has marked human nature since the Fall. The story of what happened in Eden had nothing to do with apples or sex, but instead reflects the tendency of humanity to worship itself. This self-worship leaves us incomplete. We are right to be dissatisfied because we do not live in the perfection which is our heritage. All of the strivings of humankind from beginning to end have been to find a solution to the dilemma posed by the distance between the way things are and the way we innately know they ought to be.

We have been very creative at devising strategies to overcome this, but none have solved the conundrum. We cannot find fulfillment in material gain, in physical feats of excellence, in prestige, in human relationships, or in sensual pleasure. No matter how much money or power we have to arrange ourselves or our world, we find ourselves left when we are alone with a nagging sense of dis-ease. Looks like the Rolling Stones were right.

The peculiar obsession of our age is radical individualism. We have elevated self-contentment above every other consideration. What in the sixties was thought a liberating notion: “if it feels good do it,” has become so embedded in our culture that we are enslaved by it. Without even thinking we weigh every decision against its potential for personal gain. The idea of sacrifice for the good of the community is esteemed, to a degree, as long as I’m not the one sacrificing. I will give only to the point that it doesn’t cost me too much. I don’t mind giving up some of my excess. I feel righteous when I fling a coin to a beggar.

But, in spite of how misguided we are, we still can recognize true heroism. In our culture those who command universal respect are those who give up more than just what’s left over. Our greatest admiration is reserved for those who give up all for the sake of others, with no possibility or expectation of reward. This is what love really is; not a sweaty sexual act, no matter the “orientation.” True love is to lay aside my own needs and desires for something that is greater than me.

We recognize the man who stood in front of the column of tanks in Tiananmen Square as heroic. We recognize social reformers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and those who sacrificed for justice: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oskar Schindler and the Freedom Riders and those who marched across the bridge at Selma. In our day, in contrast to the post-Vietnam era, we have come to regard those who serve in the military as heroic. Not everyone who serves is a hero, and our preoccupation with military heroism is often more jingoism than heartfelt, but there are heroes who serve.

william stacey

Two of them come to mind. Sergeant William Stacy from Seattle joined the marines, he says, as an idealist.[1] He served four tours in Afghanistan, and was weeks away from returning to the United States for the last time when on January 31, 2012 he was killed by an IED.[2] He left behind a letter for his loved ones to read in the event of his death or incapacitation. In the letter he described why he believed that dying in Afghanistan was worthwhile:

There are so many things wrong with this world and too few who care enough to do anything about them. Perhaps I joined the Marines as an idealist. But I’ve learned and dug deep down for what I truly believe. My death did not change the world….it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all. But there is a greater meaning to it. Perhaps I did not change the world. Perhaps there is still injustice in the world. But there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his. And this child will learn in the new schools that have been built. He will walk his streets not worried about whether or not his leader’s henchmen are going to come and kidnap him. He will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire. He will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it.[3]

Here is a man few have heard of. A man who, in the prime of his life, gladly gave himself up for an unknown child in Central Asia. No public applause. No magazine cover. But this man is a hero.


Pfc. Joseph Dwyer of Pinehurst, NC became famous at the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 because a photo journalist captured him carrying an Iraqi child named Ali through a battle zone to safety. He was instantly hailed a hero as his face appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the country. The photo became the expression of the humanitarian nature of our triumphant liberation of Iraq. But that image of America’s involvement was shattered long ago, and like Iraq, Joseph Dwyer could not find peace. He too came to a tragic end. He died of an overdose in 2008, a victim of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in the war zone.[4] Unlike Sgt. Stacey he left behind no eloquent letter, and there was nothing eloquent about his death. But in the end he too was a casualty of war. He gave himself up for something greater than himself. Maybe for that Iraqi kid. When they buried him there was no public applause. No one remembered. But this man, too, is a hero.

I am overwhelmed with sadness when I think of these two young men who suffered and sacrificed so much for others. I am saddened that their names are destined to fade into oblivion in the face of the blaring glaring hypocrisy of the mainstream. And I am angered when people hold up what can be no greater symbol of self-absorption than “Caitlyn” as heroic, when we forget about these. What the hell is wrong with us? One thing is certain. She(?)truly is the face of how great our debasement is.

I urge you to honor true heroism by turning off “Caitlyn” and reading the articles in the links cited.[5]

[1]Will Stacey, “Will’s Full in Case of Death Letter,” Will>>>Sergeant William Stacey, May 30, 2012, accessed June 3, 2015,http://www.williamstacey.com/wills-full-in-case-of-death-letter/555/.

[2] Eric Lacitis, “Seattle Marine Killed Jan. 31 in Afghanistan Made His Mark,” Seattle Times, February 2, 2012, accessed June 3, 2015,http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/obituaries/seattle-marine-killed-jan-31-in-afghanistan-made-his-mark/.

[3] Stacey.

[4] Kelly Kennedy, “Medic in Famous Photo Dies After Ptsd Struggle,” Army Times, July 3, 2008, accessed June 3, 2015,http://archive.armytimes.com/article/20080703/NEWS/807030320/Medic-famous-photo-dies-after-PTSD-struggle.

[5] Lawrence Downes, “Losing Private Dwyer,” New York Times, July 15, 2008, accessed June 3, 2015,http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/15/opinion/15tue4.html?_r=0.

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