Saturday, January 31, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Ralph Lazo

In the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the involuntary internment of more than 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese heritage.  Most Americans considered this a necessary measure to protect the United Sates from further attacks.  But 16 year-old Ralph Lazo was not one of them.

Lazo watched as his Japanese-American friends began to be shipped to Manzanar---the relocation site nearest his home.  And as summer vacation arrived, the young man decided he had to act.

Telling his family he was going to ‘camp’, Lazo boarded a train with his neighbors and headed to the dusty and crowded one square mile fenced facility, complete with barbed wire, armed guards and guard towers, and searchlights.  And there he stayed for two and a half years, after his family tried and failed to talk him into coming home.  The guards and families at Manzanar had just assumed that he was part-Japanese. 

While there, Ralph worked the grounds, delivered mail, and graduated from Manzanar High School, where he was elected student body president, even though he finished at the bottom of his class of 150.

He remains the only non-spouse, non-Japanese to voluntarily relocate to Manzanar.  The government only realized Ralph didn’t belong after he registered with the Draft Board.  He entered the United States Army in August of 1944, and served in the Philippines, where he received a Bronze Star for bravery in combat.

After the War, Ralph was a teacher, a mentor of disabled students and young adults, and helped raise funds for the class action law suit that won reparations for the interned Japanese-Americans.

Ralph Lazo is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, is best known for his heroic death in a starvation bunker in Auschwitz.  For many, this is why he’s a martyr.  But it should really be for how he lived.

Because he was a Catholic priest confronting evil, the Nazis arrested him and sent him to the concentration camp. In July 1941, a man from Kolbe's barracks vanished, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the selected men cried out, "My wife, my children!" It was then that Kolbe volunteered to take his place. No greater love....

After three weeks, all the men in the starvation bunker had died except for Father Kolbe. Finally losing patience with the process, the guards gave him a lethal shot of carbolic acid to finish the if death could silence such a life. Roughly 40 years later, at the canonization ceremony for St. Maximillian, the man Kolbe had volunteered to die for was present and spoke. 

Maximillian Kolbe is an obvious example of what we would call a martyr. But as I began reflecting on what he'd say to us today, my serious hunch is that he'd want us to focus on what the word “martyr” means..."witness."

What does your life witness to?  Let me put it a different way.  Someday, at your funeral, when the nice speeches are finished, and the microphone is turned off, what will people say about your life?  What will stand out?  What will be remembered? 

More than what you died for, martyrdom is about what you lived for.

Maximillian Kolbe is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Liviu Lebrescu

Liviu Librescu had faced death many times before his final hour of life on the campus of Virginia Tech University.  He had survived the Nazis, the Holocaust, and relocation to a labor camp.  And he had endured over thirty years of Communist oppression in his native Romania.  In between, he’d earned a Ph.D., and become a scientist and research professor. 

Because he refused to swear allegiance to the Communist party, Librescu’s career stalled.  But in 1978 he was finally allowed to immigrate to Israel, and eventually to the United States as a professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech. 

For the next two decades, his professional life blossomed as he lectured, conducted research, had hundreds of articles published, and served on the editorial boards of numerous scientific journals.  He was known internationally, and was a beloved teacher and a devoted family man.

On the morning of April 16, 2007, a deranged student entered the engineering building where Dr. Librescu was lecturing.  As gunfire and screaming echoed in the hallway, Librescu ordered the students to exit the room through windows.  Meanwhile, he headed for the door, and threw his body in front of it just as the gunman was attempting to enter.

By blocking the entrance to the classroom, the professor kept the madman out long enough for twenty-two of his twenty-three students to escape without harm.  Librescu was shot five times in the process, and died on the scene.

Dr. Liviu Librescu taught engineering…and so much more. 

He is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Lou Xiaoying

People become heroes in the most unlikely places.  For Lou Xiaoying it was the garbage dumps of eastern China.  There in 1972, while searching for recyclable rubbish to resell, she found her first baby.  In total Lou has saved 30 abandoned babies, dumped like trash amidst the trash.  She and her late husband adopted four, and found homes for the other 26 with family and friends. 

Lou has not let her material poverty or advanced age limit her charity.  She brought home and adopted her last child when she was 82 years-old, and is raising him with the help of her 49 year-old daughter. 

What’s almost as stunning as Lou Xiaoying’s generosity is the fact that the Chinese government has allowed her story to be reported.  Her life’s mission, and the lives she’s saved over the years while simply trying to make a living, has shed new light on the consequences of China’s one-child policy.

It is a conservative estimate that 36,000 abortions occur every day in China, and untold numbers of newborn babies are abandoned as couples try to comply with the policy and avoid harsh penalties.  Female infanticide remains a particular problem.

Lou Xiaoying’s initial goal was survival, not heroism.  But by choosing to embrace life in the garbage dumps of eastern China and sacrificing to save what is most precious and valuable, she has challenged the culture of death in her country---and given the world a reason to hope in humanity.

Lou Xioaying is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know: Welles Crowther

Welles Crowther was working on the 104th floor of the South Tower on the morning of September 11, 2001 when the plane hit.  Crowther, with a red bandanna covering his mouth and nose to protect him from the smoke, sprang into action.  He is directly responsible for saving the lives of at least 18 people.

The fact that he made it out of the inferno three times when so many didn’t make it out at all is remarkable enough.  But that he went back three times to help others is the epitome of heroism.  Six months after the South Tower collapsed, the body of this hero was finally recovered.
Courage?  Crowther was the very embodiment of it.  But I want to focus on another virtue he displayed that day:  prudence.

Prudence is about putting “first things first”; it is the virtue that guides sound judgment.  Some might quietly and respectfully question the “sound judgment” of a man who would go back into a collapsing sky scraper three times. 

But prudence isn’t about playing it safe.  We’re talking about virtue here, not the basic rules of accounting. 

Crises don’t make or break people, they reveal people.  And long before September 11, Crowther was figuring out what it meant to make good decisions, judgments that were based on more than just emotion, and ease, and self; in the home, in the classroom, on the athletic field and eventually as an investment banker.  

In the last hour of his life, Welles Crowther made the sound judgment that saving lives was what he was supposed to do…first things first.  Not because he had to, but because he could.

Welles Crowther is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.