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Voice: Heroes come in unlikely packages

December 28, 2001

When I was a child many years ago, our newspaper in Chattanooga, Tenn., ran a cartoon, the theme of which was "Heroes are made, not born."

Drastic circumstances can change ordinary humans into instant heroes. We saw many such heroes created at the World Trade Center catastrophe Sept. 11.

Some heroes aren't just ordinary; they are unlikely.

Take my husband, John, for instance.

John is a soft-spoken Southern gentleman who prefers to look like an out-of-work cowboy. He is kind, compassionate, generous:

But a hero?

Yes — although he is legally blind (can hardly see at all) circumstances have twice forced him to assume the role of hero.

The first time, many years ago, while he was still single, occurred in a hotel. Another occupant, in a room down the hall, got drunk, went to sleep with a cigarette in his hand and set his bed on fire. He was overcome by smoke before John smelled the burning mattress and rushed to his rescue.

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No good deed goes unpunished. The drunk, fearing he would have to pay damages, accused John, who had never seen him before, of trying to set him on fire.

I wouldn't be here with my clipboard on my knee writing this if John hadn't saved my life a quarter of a century ago. When Hurricane Kathleen's flood hit Ocotillo on Sept. 10, 1976, I was bedfast after two recent operations and an earlier radical mastectomy. I was too weak to stand up.

John took our little dog Wif under his left arm, and with his right arm towed me to higher ground, through stinking, filthy waters that came up to my chin.

I was more grateful than the drunk. I didn't accuse John of having started the flood.

When others look at my husband they see a short, slightly balding man with a pot belly. I see a knight in shining armor, my personal live-in hero!

John and I are ordinary, but others think we are eccentrics. We both love solitude more than socializing, and don't have the herd instinct. We've been best friends for 30 years and will be "until death do us part" (which may be soon if John reads this!)

MERRY HARRIS

El Centro

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