By John L. Demand, Jr. from Observation on Demand
“Superhereos, as we have come to know them in pop culture, are depicted as ordinary humans who have gained special powers by purpose or accident. Other heroes have come to us from the far reaches of our universe, bringing their unique gifts to our planet to serve humanity peacefully. Yet others have no special powers at all, but use their wits and wisdom to fight injustice… “ Brian Kinnaird, Ph.D. Parallel Universe – A Theatre for Heroism Cops & Superhereos piii.
This picture was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post published September 20, 1958. Although the kid in this picture represents a runaway, when you read my story you will see the man in blue sitting next to him may just be a SUPERHERO…
It was February 1956 at the age of 9 when my new born baby brother Jimmy began to convulse uncontrollably in my mother’s arms. She screamed for my father, a 6’4 200 lb World War II, war hero and recipient of the Army’s second highest award the Silver Star. He was my protector, the man I looked up to as all knowing and indestructible. He was my hero and I was certainly blessed to have him as my Dad.
My father looked at Jimmy who was burning up with fever and ran to the phone to call the police. Of course this was way before 911 and the police were responsible for medical emergencies and used station wagons as ambulances. I saw my mother and father both with panicked looks, desperation and helplessness on their faces as we waited for the police to arrive.
Several minutes later, in the distance I could hear the whirring of a siren and as I looked out our front window I could see the single red rotating “Mars” light on the top of a station wagon as it came down our block. My mom clutched Jimmy in his blanket as he was burning up with fever and convulsing violently. Dad hopelessly tried to comfort them both.
I went to our front door and there he was, a figure who looked to be about 7 feet tall, wearing a grey shirt, blue pants with a white stripe down the sides, a gun on a belt with loops and bullets inside of them, a silver star on his shirt, a hat on his head. It was as if Superman had arrived at my house. The officer saw my mother holding Jimmy. He walked up to her and said, “Ma’am where is your bathtub”. My mom said upstairs. He said,” Would you fill it with cold water and please let me hold your son. “They ran upstairs and my Mom started to fill the tub with the cold water. I followed up stairs to see what they were doing. The officer lowered my baby brother’s tiny body into the water holding his head. He kept him in the water for several minutes until my brother seemed to stop convulsing. Jimmy was crying, but he was not violently shaking as before. The officer then dried him off, and I could see the darker grey on his uniform where the water had soaked through his shirt. He handed Jimmy back to my Mom and they went to the ambulance where my Mom held Jimmy as they rushed away to the hospital.
The officer told my Dad to drive to the hospital, but not try to follow him. Some neighbors came over to take care of my sister and me. It was a night that I will never forget, nor will I ever forget the Superhero that saved my little brother.
The following summer on the 4th of July after attending our town’s parade my mom took my sister and I to a pharmacy that had a soda fountain. Shortly after we arrived, I saw my superhero come in and sit at the counter. I said to my Mom,” Look it’s him, it’s him, the officer that saved Jimmy!” Bashfully, I walked over to him and said, “Officer, I want to thank you for saving my little brother. He said, “Johnny that is my job and I am glad I knew what to do.” He then offered to buy me a Coke. That was the best Coke I ever tasted in my life. I got to sit next to him and I felt like I had met a real live superhero and he even remembered my name. It was a feeling bigger than life. It was then that I knew that someday I wanted to be like that officer. Be able to wear the uniform, but more importantly know the things he knew and how to do them.
Many years later when I told my mother I wanted to become a police officer and how the incident with Jimmy had impacted me, she said that night at the hospital the officer told her that he had a prior incident with a child who suffered from a similar case of extreme Roseola. The officer learned from the emergency room doctors that lowering the temperature of the child was the emergency procedure that could save a life. I thought how fortunate it was that this officer was the one that had responded to our house that night. What if it had been another officer who did not receive that training? Would my brother have made it to the hospital? It implanted in my brain the importance of training and gaining the knowledge that puts police officers as superheroes above the average citizen.
My first encounter of what it feels like to perform heroic action
During my second year at a small liberal arts college in Michigan, One of the fraternity houses had caught fire and was filling with smoke. It happened that I was on my way to visit my friend JB who lived in the house. When I arrived, I saw all the guys running out of the fraternity house. I asked where JB was and no one knew. Then one fellow said, he may still be inside. I ran into the house and there he was passed out on the floor. I was choking from the smoke as I picked him up under the arms and dragged him outside. He was not breathing. The summer before I was a life guard and had learned how to do CPR. In fact, at that time, CPR was a relatively new life saving technique that had been replaced by the old lifting of the arms to try to get someone breathing again. I immediately started to give JB a couple of rescue breaths. He had a pulse, so I continued. Finally, he gasped for air and began breathing. I cannot express the feeling of accomplishment, strength, self-satisfaction, and spirituality that occurs when saving the life of another human being. It is beyond comprehension and description. However, I knew it was such a wonderful feeling and something I wanted. I already knew that I had met the superhero who I wanted to be like years before who saved my brother.
Over the next forty years in law enforcement and serving as a corporate security director I have had seven times where I had to perform CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver. Three times my efforts failed to revive the victim so I also painfully learned to feel the sorrow, finality and indescribable feelings of having a person die in your arms coupled with sort of a survivor’s guilt… “Did I do enough?”But, it taught me the limits of our mortality. In each instance I knew in my heart that I did my best when others did not know what to do nor want to respond to the situation and at least I tried to be like a superhero.
As a baby boomer kid, I grew up reading the comics and watching the superhero television shows like Superman and The Lone Ranger. I was quickly brought back to reality in the second grade trying to emulate Superman, when I attempted to fly from the top of the school yard slide… My mental picture of “up, up and away” came crashing to the ground only to fracture my left arm. Less painful advice came from the real life World War II experiences of my father, who told me that when the Lone Ranger hit a guy over the head with a chair and if that were done in real life that person could be killed and that death was final. The actor may appear again next week, but in real life, he is gone forever. This is a very important lesson that is not being learned today in violent video games where the re-set button brings the dead back to life instantly. Yet those important lessons and grounding in reality did not dissuade my desire to aspire to the traits of a superhero.
What are we teaching our kids?
The main theme and lesson in all the episodes of yesteryear ‘s Superheroes was that the good guys always win over evil. However, in today’s television and in the video gaming world this is often not the case. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano vividly point this out in their book “Stop teaching our kids to kill’” A call to action against TV, movie, and video games. Shows like the Sopranos and games like Grand Theft Auto, glamorize the bad guy, the bully, the thug, and the the criminal… Many of today’s children are exposed to what are falsely being called “Superheroes” disguised as athletes and rock stars. Many of these individuals demonstrate a criminal or criminal like lifestyle of drugs , money, weapons, and violence leaving out the hard practice and training it took for them to succeed in the first place. What a travesty that the lessons of countless hours of training, practice, skill development and hard work that goes into making a professional athlete or a world class musician is lost to exhibition and glamorization of the their lifestyle trappings.
These important messages get lost to our youth. They tend to think it is the equipment and latest pair of gym shoes, jackets, and jersey’s that will bring them this false Superhero status. Then they are rewarded with trophies for just “showing up” at soccer or little league. We want to assure that we don’t hurt little Johnny’s feelings because he sucks at a particular sport. So Johnny gets the message that it’s ok to do something poorly because he will be rewarded. Still emblazoned in my head is my own Dad, who was our little league coach benching me for dropping a fly ball because I did not practice the week before the game. Guess what?” I sure as Hell practiced for the next game and was rewarded by getting to play. Remember the old World Wide Sports commercial of the ski jumper tumbling down the snow with the statement “The Agony of Defeat? “ This is an iconic message that needs to be taught to every child. Our kids are not learning these lessons of defeat to be able to overcome it through practice and hard work.
SO, WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEREOS GONE?
Having served as a police officer in the early 1970s during the “Hippie Generation” when cops were called pigs, there was a saying. “If you don’t like cops next time you need help…call a Hippie” No matter what disdain the citizen may have for the police, when help is needed they expect a “superhero” to arrive and flawlessly perform.
Dr. Kinnaird points out “Hero myths vary in detail and upon closer examination they possess a structural similarity to law enforcement. That special role suggests the development of the individual – an awareness of his strengths and weaknesses – in a manner equipping him for the difficult tasks that lie ahead.” (Parallel Universe – p61)
What makes a good police officer different from the citizen is first a desire to help others and to be like the superhero to fight for “Truth, Justice and the American way.” I realize too well that there are individual police officers who disgrace the badge and their office, but they are fortunately a very small minority. Yet, they are the ones the public hear about most, because the bad cop makes for interesting press. However, the vast majority of police officers are committed to helping others and trying to do a next to impossible job that does require superhero qualities and capabilities. Certainly, the oath of office and legal status to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the laws are the basis of authority that is granted to police officers, but it is training and skill sets that differentiate them. It is knowing what to do and how to do it when others stand by helplessly. It is the courage and dedication to service that makes a police officer run toward danger when others are running away. This is what sets these superheroes apart from the average citizen.
As you go to sleep each night and throughout every waking day there are cadres of superheroes in blue waiting at your beckoning call, protecting you and who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep our communities safe to continue the way of life we as Americans have come to enjoy. In 2010, 160 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty and several were executed for just wearing their uniform. Already this year, four law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice trying to do their job.
Next time you look in your rear view mirror and your heart skips a beat in fear when you see a police officer because maybe you are over the posted speed limit. The next time you see a police officer standing in freezing cold, the rain, or blistering heat working an accident as you sit comfortably in your car. The next time you see a squad car pass your house on a holiday or if you happen to be up in the wee hours of the morning when others are in bed. You may have just seen a man or woman dressed as a police officer who deep inside is really a Superhero.
Now as a police trainer I realize the daunting task of trying to help and encourage police officers to continue to aspire to be the Superheroes we expect them to be. Law enforcement is often a thankless job that is filled with public distain and mistrust. It takes a Superhero to look past the hatred, look past public scrutiny, look past the fear of losing one’s life and continue to be ready to at a moment’s notice to spring into action and perform heroic feats that others would never consider or contemplate. It is my hope that we all will see past the dark side of glitz, glamour and bling and respect our true Superheroes wearing the badge of courage and righteousness. For it is the police officer that provides the thin blue line between order and chaos, bringing order to our society and it is they who are the Superheroes that are the first line of defense to maintain “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”