Heroes, Born or Made?

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Are heroes [heroines] born or are they made? Do they rise to unexpected heights because of circumstances or because of fate?

In today's world, the word hero is tossed about hither and yon without much thought, it seems, to what constitutes a hero, or the circumstances [fate?] that created the situation for the word's use.

In Canada, the trend seems to be to tear down heroes for no more reason than because in the minds of some, heroes, at least Canadian ones, are contrary to the silly idea that Canada is a country of sops, of social do-gooders where there is no room for a hero. The greatest Allied air ace of World War One, Canadian Billy Bishop, comes to mind. Some 'anti-hero types' took it upon themselves to challenge the veracity of Bishop's claim of 72 kills. Subsequently, their thesis was proved incorrect and Bishop's honour and his Victoria Cross were shown to have been honourably and rightly earned.

Another Canadian hero and VC winner was Lieutenant Alexander Roberts Dunn for his heroism during the charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava, October 1854. Dunn was the first Canadian to be awarded a VC; since then, 93 others, including Bishop, have received this highly respected and much valued military honour. Perhaps, of all the military medals awarded for valour anywhere in the world, the Victoria Cross stands above all others.

Of course, the world knows of Canadian John McCrae and his world-famous poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae and his poem are front and centre annually at Cenotaphs across Canada during November 11th Remembrance Day services. Not only in Canada, but also in many Western countries McCrae's In Flanders Fields is recited or sung at services to honour those who stepped forward, volunteered and in some cases, died for democracy. "We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders Fields."

An interesting sidebar to the Victoria Cross is that three Winnipeggers all from the same street received this high honour. It is believed to be the only street in the world to have three VC winners who lived there. The City of Winnipeg named the street 'Valour Road' in honour of Leo Clarke, Fred Hall and Robert Shankland. The street's previous name was Pine Street. Their war was the Great War - or, World War One.

The Canadian Navy, too, has its heroes; among them a VC winner. In the latter stages of World War Two, RCN pilot Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray flew his flaming aircraft into a Japanese destroyer. For his heroic action, he was awarded the VC, posthumously. At the time, Gray was serving onboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Formidable.

More recent times have seen the Canadian Navy perform admirably under duress; and while this next part is not centred on a particular person, the hero of the piece is the ship itself and its complement.

During Operation Apollo, HMCS Ottawa was tasked to patrol the Arabian Gulf region with explicit instructions to intercept any vessel sailing in those troubled waters with a view to checking its identity, examining its cargo and passengers and ascertaining its destination. The interdiction duty included boarding when and where necessary in search of contraband goods or fugitives fleeing from Iraq.

Ottawa received intelligence that a ship - a contact of interest - was about to weigh anchor in the Arabian Gulf. The ship's destination was unknown and that heightened the interest Ottawa had in the vessel. Later, it was learned that the contact of interest was M/V [motor vessel] Roaa.

The Canadian warship was ordered to search for Roaa in the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow passage in the Gulf between territorial waters of Oman and Iran. For about three days, Ottawa's ship's company, especially the ship's communications crew, queried ships passing through the Strait about their "identities and voyage information."

As the area is narrow and with much traffic, the...
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