Posts Tagged ‘Heroes’

Heroes without Headlines, Gettysburg, 2012

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Heroes without Headlines, Gettysburg, 2012

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
All Rights Reserved
The Face of America Project

"Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure" Abraham Lincoln

Flag of Honor

The headline in the Gettysburg Times read, “Flies with honor.”

The accompanying picture recorded the moment, shortly before noon, when Barney Barnum and Brian Thacker raised the light blue flag with the impressive emblem under the Stars and Stripes in Lincoln Square on October 17, 2012.

For the people who came to witness this event, it was a very significant moment.

Barnum and Thacker are Medal of Honor recipients. The flag is the simple, but elegant, Medal of Honor flag.

The occasion was a celebration. The Medal of Honor Convention will be held in Gettysburg next September, the place where 63 Medals of Honor were earned in the battle that changed the course of the Civil War.

The flag will fly high above Lincoln Square for one year as a symbol of courage, honor, hope, respect and service.

The flag raising was the highlight of an inspiring ceremony that helped people better understand the Medal of Honor, the veterans who earned it and everything it symbolizes.

For me, it was the beginning of a day, I will never forget.


I did not know about the event when I arrived in Gettysburg on Tuesday, October 16.  My mind was focused on the seven meetings, I had arranged to finalize plans for the premiere of our documentary, Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg.  I was on my way to a meeting at the Convention and Visitors Bureau when I literally bumped it to a very pleasant man on Steinwehr Ave.

I was lost. When I asked him for directions to Middle Street, he took the time to respond in detail. Before we knew it, we were engaged in a wonderful conversation about his work as a photographer and my mission to get the word out about our project.

Del Hilbert is a welcoming person, a kind person, a thoughtful person and a person of faith. He invited me to visit his studio. I accepted, and he put a coin in the parking meter.  That unexpected act of kindness established the foundation and tone of our emerging friendship. We talked about our interests and one of our mutual friends, Frank Orlando, aka General Robert E. Lee. Del gave me one of the pictures he took of Frank, and he invited me to join him on Wednesday morning at the circle by the David Wills House, the home where President Lincoln was a guest during his visit to Gettysburg in November 1863.

A Unique Face of America Moment

Wednesday, October 17, was a magnificent autumn day. When I arrived at the circle, I did not know what to expect.

A crowd was building. The mood was festive, but reserved.  People were talking in hushed tones.  Wherever one looked something was happening.

Two bright yellow school vans transporting 14 members of the Gettysburg High School Band were being parked adjacent to the Gettysburg Hotel.

Junior ROTC students,Emma Bahm, Gabrielle Minor, John Tully and Aaron Scruggs were taking their places under the watchful eye of Thomas A Bores, SFC, U.S. Army retired. 

An Honor Guard was forming, Gettysburg’s Mayor, William Troxell, was greeting people with a smile and a firm handshake.

A pleasant young woman named Ashley greeted everyone with her radiant smile as she distributed folders containing information about the event and the Medal of Honor Society.

An incredibly talented senior executive from the Webster Group, AJ Bowanas, helped people make connections. Kristen Holland, Project Manager for the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention in Gettysburg, attended to last minute details with great dignity.

Carl Whitehall, Media Relations Manager, for the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, greeted old friends like Frank and Bonnie Orlando and Pastor Steve Herr.

Then it happened, two men appeared to my left. They were quietly and politely shaking hands with people as they made their way toward the platform where the program would take place. I watched them with great interest. It was the first time I had ever seen a Medal of Honor recipient. In fact, it was the first time I had seen a person wearing a Medal of Honor.

Suddenly I was face to face with Brian Thacker. He was dressed in a blue sport coat and grey dress pants. He was not as tall as I had imagined he would be. Without the medal he was wearing, one could easily misidentify him as a business executive.  He was more reserved than I expected, and he was more generous with his time than I expected.

On March 31, 1971, he earned the Medal of Honor because he was a leader who displayed no thought for himself as he worked courageously and effectively in the face of unimaginable danger to guarantee the safety of others. He was the person who survived eight days in the jungle of Vietnam without food or water. He was the junior officer who years later told a reporter, “I was afraid. Yet fear is a wonderful motivator. It sharpens your brain and then your only objective is to survive.”

When my moment came, all I could do was look him in the eye and say these words, “Thank you for your service to America.”

His response was polite and grateful.

A few minutes later, I found myself in a similar situation with Barney Barnum. He is smaller than I thought he would be. In my mind, he is a giant for what he did and the way he did it.

Barnum is a man with a perpetual smile on his face. Without the gold medal with the blue ribbon hanging from his neck, you would think he is everyone’s favorite grandfather. When you are in his presence the feeling of awe is palpable, but his smile puts you at ease. 

His moment came on December 18, 1965. Like all Medal of Honor recipients in the face of danger, he acted with complete disregard for his own safety. He took the initiative. He gave encouragement. He assumed a leadership position. What he did is best described in his citation:

“His sound and swift decisions and his obvious calm served to stabilize the badly decimated units and his gallant example as he stood exposed repeatedly to point out targets served as an inspiration to all. Provided with two armed helicopters, he moved fearlessly through enemy fire to control the air attack against the firmly entrenched enemy while skillfully directing one platoon in a successful counterattack in the key enemy positions. Having thus cleared a small area, he requested and directed the landing of two transport helicopters for the evacuation of the dead and wounded. He then assisted in the mopping up and final seizure of the battalion’s objective.”

When I met Barney Barnum, I offered my expression of gratitude. He responded with a smile, a warm handshake and the words, “Thank you so much.”

After that moment, time passed quickly.

Dressed in their Army of the Potomac uniforms and directed by David Conklin, the high school musicians played popular selections from the Civil War.

Robert J. Monahan, Jr., President and CEO of the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention in Gettysburg, began the program with a well-crafted welcome.

The Gettysburg Area High School Army JROTC Cadets recited the Pledge of Allegiance with conviction and passion.

Pastor Steve Herr delivered his invocation with feeling and grace. The concluding three sentences of his prayer touched the hearts of everyone in the crowd:

“Finally, Lord we also pray for peace among all peoples. For peace in our hearts and minds, among our citizens, and among nations. We pray that you would inspire us with the courage to devote our lives to serving our fellow citizens and caring for your people.”

Without warning, the most instructive moment of the ceremony happened. Mayor Troxell came to the podium to offer remarks. For some reason, the microphone moved and he could not be heard.

Without hesitation, Barney Barnum stealthfully made his way to the mike stand. He dislodged the mike from its holder, and he stood next to the mayor holding the microphone in just the right place so that everyone in the audience could hear what he was saying.

That act, that moment, that rescue spoke volumes about Barnum, his values and his medal. Just as he had done in a much more dangerous circumstance in Vietnam all those years ago, his instinctive sense of service to others took over.  He forgot about his role as a distinguished guest. He dismissed his personal comfort. He rushed in to help the mayor and everyone else.

In that moment, with that act, he exemplified why he is the personification of America at its best. His action sent a powerful message to everyone assembled in Lincoln Square. Service to others, kindness to others, helping others and caring about the success of others is central to America at its best.

Shortly before I left Lincoln Square, I noticed a TV cameraman setting up a shot for an interview with Barney Barnum. When I reached the location, I took a picture of the man who saved the moment for the mayor. Then I positioned myself in a place where we could make eye contact. The words I spoke to this unassuming hero came straight from my heart, “You are an American treasure.”

He blushed. Then he smiled with an expression of gratitude unlike anything I have ever experienced, and one which I will never forget.

That’s what heroes without headlines do. They make indelible impressions on our heart, and they make us want to reach up for our higher angels.

There are 81 living Medal of Honor recipients. Would that every American would have the opportunity to meet at least one of them and experience, in real time, the goodness, kindness, courage, patriotism and service that makes each of them a model to be imitated, respected and honored.

In my opinion, what makes them so special is not power, wealth, status or notoriety.  On the contrary, they are special because they are just like us. They are human, they have fears, they wonder about their future, they love their children and yearn for their safety, happiness and success. They bear the aches and pains of life, yet they never complain. Their actions are motivated by service not selfishness, grace not greed, humility not pride.

The two men I met in Gettysburg see themselves as a soldier and a marine who did nothing more than serve their country.

The Medal of Honor does not signify perfection. In my mind, it is a statement about excellence. The 3,458 men and one woman who have earned it acted in the best interest of their neighbors, their friends and their country. They thought about others before themselves. In so doing, they established a model of behavior that encourages the weak to be strong, the timid to be courageous, and the powerful to be generous. Their behavior on the battlefield and in the public square gives truth to the words of Abraham Lincoln, “We must rise with the occasion…Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.”

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Teachers: Heroes Without Headlines

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Teachers: Heroes Without Headlines, An Expression of Gratitude

Written by Tony Mussari
Pictures by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Mr. Mussari when I assign six pages, you will do ten. Sister Mary Hilary R.S.M.


Wherever we went during our Face of America journey, we met teachers who are making a difference in the lives of their students; teachers who care about students, teachers who love what they do, teachers who willingly make sacrifices to empower young people to dream dreams of a better life for themselves and others.

During our Face of America project, Kitch and I have spent more time in North Plainfield, New Jersey, than any other place in America. If truth be told, we have visited North Plainfield High School more than 21 times during our project.  This is where we discovered the Face of America’s tomorrow, today.  It is an earnest, hopeful, radiant Face of America.

Walking the hallways, visiting classrooms, attending school events we observed, firsthand, a kind of teaching that is designed to bring out the best in these students.

Most recently, we were part of a delegation of ten students and eight adults who visited Gettysburg in search of the greatness of America.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and Tuesday, May 8, is National Teacher Appreciation Day. To celebrate the teachers in North Plainfield, and teachers everywhere, Kitch and I would like to offer 20 thoughts about teachers and teaching that speak to American teachers at their very best.

Every one of these thoughts we experienced in the schools we visited during our journey across America.

What Is A Teacher?

I’m a teacher. A teacher is someone who leads. There is no magic here. I do not walk on water. I do not part the sea. I just love children. Marva Collins

Teachers believe they have a gift for giving; it drives them with the same irrepressible drive that drives others to create a work of art or a market or a building. A. Bartlett Giamatti  

We become teachers for reasons of the heart. Parker Palmer

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.  Jacques Barzun

A teacher has two jobs; fill young minds with knowledge, yes, but more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn’t go to wste.  Principal Jacobs to Glenn Holland

The great teacher is not the man who supplies the most facts, but the one in whose presence we become different people.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What Do Teachers Do?

What all good teachers have in common, however, is that they set high standards for their students and do not settle for anything less.  Marva Collins

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. Albert Einstein

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth. Dan Rather

Educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective. The only way any of us can improve, as Coach Graham taught me, is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves. If we can’t accurately do that, how can we tell if
we’re getting better or worse? Randy Pausch

I teach you truths. My truths. Yeah, and it is kinda scary, dealing with the truth. Scary, and dangerous… Mark Thackeray

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. Mark van Doren

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome
while trying to succeed.  Booker T. Washington

Why Do Teachers Do What They Do?

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it
come in.   Morrie Schwartz

The essential condition of everything you do must be choice, love and passion. George Parks

Playing music is supposed to be fun. It’s about heart, it’s about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it’s not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page, I can’t teach you that other stuff.   Glenn Holland

…only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be. John Keating

It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of person kind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely. Leo Buscaglia

When Does it End?

The education of a man is never completed until he dies. Robert E. Lee

One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure. John W. Gardner

To all the teachers we met during our Face of America Journey and to their counterparts all over the country we say thank you. You matter.  You make a difference.  You are the link between the dreams of our forefathers and the fulfillment of those dreams by our children and our grandchildren. We admire your dedication. We celebrate your service. We thank you for helping students find the best edition of themselves.

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Heroes Without Headlines, Part 1

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Heroes Without Headlines
By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

What has made this nation so great? Not its heroes, but its households.Sarah Orne Jewett

Heroes without Headlines, Part 1

Sunday, November 6, 2011, was a beautiful autumn day. Kitch and I decided to make our way to several flood damaged communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania to speak with people who were trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.  

During the Agnes Flood of 1972, Kitch was one of the first female broadcasters in Pennsylvania. She worked as a reporter for WARM Radio. Known to listeners in this part of the state as the Mighty 590, WARM had the largest radio news team and the biggest audience.

I was an independent contractor working as the editorial director and an investigative reporter for WNEP TV. Ironically, our paths seldom, if ever, met during that time.

On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, we took the blue-lined roads to small communities along the Susquehanna River: West Nanticoke, Mocanaqua, Shickshinny and Bloomsburg.

Quite honestly, this Face of America trip would not have happened, if Trish Hartman, anchor and reporter for WNEP TV, had not asked for an interview for a special she is producing about the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee.

To get ready for the interview, I read chapters of my Ph.D. thesis about Hurricane Agnes as an agent of change, and the book that preceded it, Appointment with Disaster. I spent a good deal of time reading reports about both disasters. A conversation with Jerry Mancinelli who works for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare provided context for Tropical Storm Lee.

As helpful as this information was, I needed to speak with people who experienced the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Lee. I wanted to experience the human side of the disaster. I wanted to do it with Kitch who, in 1982, compiled a 96 part series about Hurricane Agnes.

On this trip she had to stay in the car while I did the heavy lifting, but having her by my side gave me the confidence I needed to make the day pleasant and productive.

Tidewater People

Driving along Route 29, we stopped in West Nanticoke, a very small community located next to Harveys Creek. The name Nanticoke is derived from Algonquian, and it means people of the tidewaters. There, we met Lynn Traatr. He is not a man of wealth or power.   He is a registered nurse who works in home health care. He lives in a modest neighborhood. Visible signs of the September flood are everywhere.

An American flag has a prominent place in front his flood damaged home. When he speaks, he is does not mince words.

Lynn had flood damage in his home and in the neighboring mobile home he owns. He is angry and frustrated about several flood-related experiences and the response he received from federal and state agencies of government.

He told us FEMA would not give him money to repair his mobile home. He found no difference in securing a loan from a local bank or the SBA. His anger, frustration and exhaustion surfaced when he categorized federal and state assistance to flood victims with these words: “I think the federal and state help stinks.”   

When our conversation turned to the basic questions we ask everyone for our Face of America project, his answers reflected his appreciation for his country and his longing for American exceptionalism.

He is proud of his country because he can voice his opinions. To use his words, “I can state things like I have just stated without somebody coming back ready to put silver bracelets on you.”

“I would like to see us getting back to everybody being willing to help one another, to work together, to improve,” he told me. “That’s what this country was founded on.”

Five Mountains

Shickshinny is a small community located along Route 11. Its population is less than 1,000 people. The word means five mountains in Native American. According to local historians the town name celebrates the Shickshinny Creek, a place were five points of the Appalachian Mountains meet.

Wherever you look in Shickshinny, you see flood damaged businesses, and people trying to make repairs. Only one person we met was willing to talk with us, and that was on condition that we not record her comments digitally or take her picture.

The Only Incorporated TOWN in Pennsylvania

Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, is located 50 miles from our home. It was incorporated in 1870 as a town, and to this day it lays claim to being the only incorporated town in the state. The state recognizes that claim in its publications.  In reality, there is another incorporated town in western Pennsylvania. The town of McCandless incorporated 1975.

In Bloomsburg, the flood damage is shocking. On West Main Street, homes and other structures were moved off their foundations. Yet, in the midst of this carnage almost two months after the storm, we found the most positive and helpful people.

Richard Fornwald is a person you would want to be your neighbor. An Army veteran who served in the Honor Guard in Washington, DC, he is a big man who is thoughtful and very welcoming. He did not expect the flood to be as damaging as it was. Tropical Storm Lee caused more damage to his home than Hurricane Agnes 39 years earlier. In 1972, he had 5 inches of water on the first floor. Today he is dealing with a disaster that brought 26 inches of water to his home.

Mr. Fornwald is very pleased with the local, federal and state response. He has flood insurance, and he is waiting for his settlement.

For him, America is a great country, and about his situation, he is very honest; “We live down here and we must put up with this stuff.”

Richard’s neighbor Colton Fisher had 34 inches of water on the first floor of his home. His garage was torn from its foundation. “You have to get into the swing of things. You have to keep moving on,” he told me.  “You have to keep moving forward.”

Colton has high praise for help he received from volunteers in church groups and from all levels of government. He has flood insurance, and he applied for an SBA loan.

An American flag flying in Fisher’s back yard and a table covered with a pink cloth on his deck caught my attention. On this Sunday afternoon, he and his wife, Sharon, returned to their home to work on their laundry room and have a picnic on their deck.

I was not surprised to learn that Fisher was a Marine.

He told me he is proud to be an American. He appreciates the freedom he enjoys, and he believes America on its best day is exemplified by “people who are hard working, people who get knocked down and get back up and keep on moving.”

He is very much aware that as the days and weeks pass, he and his wife are on their own.

Sharon Fisher is an administrative assistant at the Geisinger Medical Center’s Division of Quality and Safety.  When I asked her to walk with her husband and her neighbor to the street in front of her house to meet and talk with Kitch, she responded positively and without hesitation.

There, in between the shadow of her damaged house and the rushing, soothing sounds of Fishing Creek that caused all of the damage, she spoke words that I will never forget:

“You have to stay as positive as you can. I could be down and out like some people are but what good is that going to do? A positive attitude keeps you going…going forward. I’ve learned that I’m not going to put all my heart and soul into a house any more. I want to spend my money on travel and recreation and having a good time.”

On this day, Kitch and I were fortunate to meet people who personify one of the most compelling characteristics of America on its best day, resilience. They were down but not out.  They were hurting, but not about to give up.  They were working hard to make their tomorrow better than today.

As we drove north toward Mocanaqua, the words of Helen Keller came to mind:

“The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”

To be continued.

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Heroes Without Headlines, Part 2

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Heroes Without Headlines, Part 2
By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”Anais Nin

Finding the Essence of America in a Flood Zone

As the Susquehanna River flows, Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania, is 26 miles north of Bloomsburg, PA. It is a small community of less than 7,000 people. The name of the town is said to be the name given to Frances Slocum after she was kidnapped by the Delaware Indians in 1778. It means Little Bear Woman.

Kitch and I were introduced to Mocanaqua by one of our former students, Phillip Yacuboski.  In 2000, we were producing Windsor Park Stories. Phillip was working at a local TV station. He asked us to produce a documentary about his church, St. Mary’s of Mocanaqua for the Local Legacy Project sponsored by the Library of Congress. We said yes. The project brought us to his hometown, and the rest as they say is history.

Fast forward 11 years. Phillip is the overnight assignment editor at WBAL TV, Baltimore, Maryland, and we are on our way to visit the flood damaged sections of Mocanaqua.  

After we drove through a flood damaged neighborhood that sits less than 100 yards from the river’s edge, we noticed what appeared to be a carpenter carrying materials into a home on River Street. Little did we know, then, that we were about to meet a person who would speak with authority about the flood and what it means to enjoy the blessings of American citizenship.

Jerzy Milkucki was born in Poland.  He immigrated to America 17 years ago. After his five year probationary period, he became an American citizen. He is a painter by profession, but he is skilled in carpentry as well.  On this Sunday afternoon he was installing drywall in his dining room.

Jerzy is a natural conversationalist.  He was a delight to interview. He is genuine, honest, sincere and very positive. He believes the warning system worked. In fact, he had enough time to take everything upstairs where he spent the night of September 9, waiting for the river to crest. Before the river receded, he used his kayak to float around the neighborhood checking for damage and looking for people who needed help. He was favorably impressed by the help he received after the flood from the Red Cross, the Polish Falcons and volunteer firefighters. His experiences with FEMA were excellent, and the people he met there were, in his words, “very nice.”

When our conversation turned to his thoughts about America, the expression on his face and the cadence of his words spoke volumes.

“America is a beautiful country,” he told me.  This is a country for living. It is a country of opportunity for everybody.  It is a beautiful country. Last year I was in Alaska, a beautiful place. I was in the west states. I was in Florida. I was all over.  One day, if I have the money and time I would like to experience all of the states of America. It is a beautiful country, beautiful people, not everybody, but my experience is with very good, good people, helpful, very kind and very warm. It’s nice.”

When I asked him to compare life in Poland with his experience in America, he willingly shared these thoughts:

“In Poland, the political, economic situation is like this.  The money you make for living, it’s not enough. The level of living over there, you have to be working from morning until night, and it’s still going to be hard to make it."

"Here, you know, you learn something; you do the job, you work hard, you make money. It’s like my family. My wife works. My daughter is going to a very good university, Fordham University. In Poland, I would not be able to afford to put her in a good university. Over here she is a top student, speaks three languages, and she is going for the fourth one. I tell her hard work, hard work, hard work and then you are going to have it easy in your life.”

What did Jerzy Milkucki learn from his flood experience?

He is stronger as a person, more independent. In his words, “my view is way, way wider. I know who is the real person, and who is the one who is trying to slide under. I can count on my neighbors.”

Before I left his home, Jerzy summarized the past two months with this observation:

“In my experience, I survived flood and fire. I don’t know what’s going to be next. The good thing about a flood is you know it’s coming, and you have time to prepare yourself. It brings the community together.”

Don’t Live Next to a Creek

On our way home we stopped in West Nanticoke to speak with John Nash.  He was installing a light over his front door. He stopped what he was doing to talk with us, and his story reinforced the one we had just recorded in Mocanaqua.

His experience with all of the agencies of government was positive. “Everyone in the community pulled together,” he said, “and everybody just helped each other out.”  He believes America on its best day is people helping people.

His mother, Sylvia Nash, knows this is a tough time, but she refuses to sit back and feel sorry for herself. She is determined to keep moving forward.

When I asked her son what was the most important lesson he learned, she interrupted our conversation with six words spoken with authority:

“Don’t live next to a creek.”

Kitch and I have spent the better part of two years talking with people who live in small towns across America.  It never ceases to amaze us what we have learned from these conversations. On this November afternoon, the people we met and the things they shared give truth to the words of Rebecca Harding Davis:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world.”

That’s the essence of the Face of America, and that’s what America is all about on its best day.

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