Most dictionaries define them in simple terms. Heroes. Those who act with exceptional courage when faced with imminent peril.

In this brave new world, a person doesn’t have to run into a burning building or land a disabled airplane to qualify as a hero. Today, heroes come in many forms.

The woman who finds the courage to walk out of an abusive marriage. The alcoholic who finds the strength to put the bottle away before the bottle puts him away. Single mothers who do the impossible. Cancer victims who fight with incredible valor to defeat all medical predictions. People who speak up.

Heroes are everywhere, on battlefields, mountainsides or city streets. In classrooms, on playgrounds and in the cubicle next to yours.

Here are some of our local heroes who were willing to share their stories recently. There are others – like the man who won a medal for punting a hand grenade away from his fellow soldiers – who gave a few tidbits and then decided they didn’t want the recognition. We respect that decision while celebrating those who came forth with their stories.

Editor’s note: Stories have been edited. Also, we regret that because of space limitations and the number of submissions, not all stories could be included.

Another Mai Lai, now told

Al Pelletier, Norway, Maine

This is a story I seldom speak of as it emotionally stresses me out, but I’ll share it with you and your readers.

In 1968, while serving aboard the USS Providence CLG-6 (a guided missile cruiser and command ship for 7th Fleet) off the coast of Vietnam, we entered a free-fire zone, which means if anything looks suspicious, it’s fair game. Two sampans were leaving the beach and heading out to sea. We had reports of Vietcong in the area, so the ship’s captain believed them to be the enemy. He ordered our 6-inch guns to open fire on the small boats. The 7th Fleet Admiral John J. Hyland, my boss, went up to the ship’s bridge and asked the captain what was going on.

The captain replied, “Suspected VC.”

Admiral Hyland said,” If they are not confirmed VC cease fire.”

The captain said, “With all due respect, this is my ship and my command.”

Hyland replied, “Captain, with equal respect, this is my fleet and I said cease fire.”

We pulled alongside all the death and carnage, and with grappling hooks brought up body parts and, with a basket, one survivor. The old man sat squatting on the quarterdeck speaking without being understood. Then I heard him say “ice cream” in French. I told the officer in charge he was speaking French and I understood him well. After some brief interrogation I determined that they were a South Vietnamese fishing family who went to shore to repair their nets.

River patrol boats were quickly brought in to mop up all the evidence of the captain’s wrong decision and all cameras and films were confiscated, plus we were ordered not to speak of it. Another Mai Lai massacre never told. These people are now all dead and I will speak of it.

Futile rescue effort in the Lewiston canal

Wanda Chadbourne (recalling the evening a car plunged into the Lewiston canal with a mother and daughter inside)

I was working at Cablevision at the time and I got a frantic call on the two-way radio from one of my service techs, Jeff Taylor, who was sitting at the light in front of the old Peck’s building (on Main Street in Lewiston). He watched in horror as a car sped through the light from Lisbon Street, never stopping and went careening into the canal there. Seems a young girl was learning to drive and instead of hitting the brakes, hit the accelerator! Jeff was screaming, “Call 911, call 911, a car just went into the canal!” While I called 911, he ran out with rope, throwing it below into the water. I believe this young girl’s mom perished as Jeff frantically tried getting them to grab the rope. Then the emergency guys showed up.

Why married men live longer?

Janet and David Nelson, Auburn

It all began on a beautiful spring day in May 2006. It was warm enough to have the back screen door open. My husband decided to mow the lawn and he was finishing up by doing the small banking with a walk-behind lawn mower.

I was inside the house and by the luck of the draw, did not have anything running, like a radio, TV or dishwasher, that would have prevented me from hearing. I heard my name called out once and decided to look out and see why Dave would be calling to me.

When I stepped outside, I noticed my husband lying on the ground about 250 feet away. When I got to him he was not breathing and I couldn’t detect a pulse. My husband suffered a “sudden cardiac arrest,” an event that comes on with little to no warning and only about five out of 100 survive.

Of course I immediately ran back to the house and called 911. At that time I did not have a portable phone that could be taken with me back to him so I told the dispatcher that I had to hang up and go to my husband. She reassured me that help was on the way.

All the time I was doing CPR, I could hear the sirens coming, it seemed like an eternity before they finally arrived. Many things had to line up that day in order for the outcome to be a positive one. Needless to say, my husband is alive today.

Would I do it again, you bet. After all, we have had a bonus of 4 1/2 years and counting.

Roadside stop saves a life

Mary Roussel, Auburn

In 1985 I was employed at Togus in nursing service as a licensed practical nurse. During one of my days off I drove to South Portland to spend the day with my father. As I was driving along I-295 I came upon a scene in which a car had stopped along the side of the road and an elderly woman was lying on the grass. I pulled off the highway and offered my assistance. Her friend told me that the lady was having a heart attack and that an ambulance was on its way. I immediately began CPR and before you know it another vehicle pulled over and the driver assisted me in performing CPR. The ambulance crew stabilized her and took her to MMC. She survived. I received a letter of commendation from Governor (Joseph) Brennan for my efforts.

I want the public to know that each and every one of us has the capacity to help each other whether it be in an emergency or not. If this letter will inspire people to check on their neighbors during a storm, donate to a food bank or look in on an elderly neighbor, than I have accomplished what I set out to do by going public with my story.

A chance family swim prevents a drowning

Keith Greaton, Lewiston

The most heroic thing that I ever did was save a drowning boy from a swimming pool while on vacation about three years ago. My wife, two kids and I where on our way home from a trip to North Carolina. My kids were tired and hungry. My daughter saw a sign for a Cracker Barrel restaurant in New Jersey so we decided to stop and find a motel nearby. After supper the kids wanted to go swimming in the hotel pool. We went down and swam for almost an hour. We had begun the process of getting ready to leave when some kids came in without adult supervision ranging in ages from 5 to 9. As we were drying off my wife said to me that something wasn’t right.

I turned and looked in the pool and one of the children was sinking to the bottom of the pool. I dove in and grabbed the child, pulled him out of the pool and did a brief assessment. The child was unconscious, not breathing and no pulse. I yelled to my wife to call 911, and began CPR on the child. After what seemed like an eternity the boy finally began breathing and threw up water. Shortly after, the paramedics showed up and air-lifted the boy to the hospital, where he later regained consciousness. After they took him away I never heard from the boy’s parents or the hotel staff. I am just glad that I was at the right place at the right time.

Doorway rescue part of being human

Joseph Ziehm, Lisbon

I pulled a kid out of those broken doors at (an area mall). Door had a sensor that was off, he stopped for a split second, and I grabbed him and pulled him out, a couple of years ago. Sensor usually gets thrown off by the cold weather. What is there to brag about? It is part of being called human. To paraphrase Psych, the real heroes are the brave men and women of our police departments and fire departments.

Many happy returns

Kelly Briggs, Auburn

Once in Buckfield, my boyfriend and I were driving and I thought I saw a purse in the middle of the road. I told him to pull over and sure enough it was. A lot of credit cards and money was scattered all over the road. We collected everything we saw. I found the owner’s license and called 411 (directory assistance), hoping that she’d have a home phone. Her husband picked up and said their teenage daughter took the car and left the purse on top of the car. He offered to give us $20, but we both said no. The feeling of helping them out was priceless.

Fire averted by fast response

Michael Barone, Brunswick

At the age of 14, I was the senior patrol leader of a Boy Scout troop in Hamden, Connecticut. We were camping on a farm in the northeast corner of Connecticut. Being the senior leader allowed me to sit around the campfire with all the adults. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a huge fireball of flame coming from one of the patrol’s campfires about 100 feet away. I yelled fire and took off running toward the flames. . . . I got tunnel vision and it seemed no matter how fast I ran, I could not get there. After what seemed like ages, I descended on the fire and was stamping out flames. A small red kerosene lantern was covered in flames. I hesitated for the briefest instant thinking about the lantern exploding, then grabbed the lantern and tried to put it out. It took several strong breathes but I finally got it out. I turned to see my scoutmaster ruining his L.L. Bean shirt smothering the rest of the flames. To this day I know I prevented a small explosion.

Intuition prevents possible tragedy

Jeannette Theriault, Lewiston

In the 1980s, I was house mother . . . for student nurses. One night, I was alone; everyone was gone to some party. I had to make the rounds every hour through the whole building. As I left the lounge and entered the hallway to the dorm, I smelled something burning. In those days, the doors were not locked. We were not allowed to enter any room. I kept checking and came to where the smell was. I decided to check the bedrooms in case the girls had used the iron for their dresses. I checked four rooms. Past those four, it didn’t smell anymore. I decided that something was burning in the ceiling. I immediately called security to call the fire department. Three firemen came. I directed them to where the smell was. They got their ladders and equipment and removed the squares at the ceiling. When they arrived, I left and went back to my desk. They were there a while and finally came out. One fireman looked at me and said, “Ma’am, if you hadn’t called us, the whole building would have gone up in smoke during the night.”

I was glad I had followed my intuition of taking a risk that something was wrong. I never heard a thing about it and didn’t get a medal, but my heart sure felt good that maybe I had saved my girls from a terrible catastrophe.

Intervention struck chord with bullies

Marty McMorrow, Mechanic Falls

I was in a “semi popular” band in the local music scene about five years ago. We were headlining a show of about 200 people at the Deering Grange Hall in Portland. Now, in the small local scene, there were always a mesh of differently styled bands on one show. Yet whatever problems came from the interaction from the fans was minimal and nothing you couldn’t quell with kicking a few rowdy kids out or giving them a stern talking to.

On this particular night, that unfortunately was not the case due to some sort of altercation that happened after a few hardcore kids jumped on top of some other young man’s lady friend’s head within in the mayhem of live music. So there was a lot of tension between about 20 very angsty and bullish young dudes and an 18-year-old kid and his girlfriend.

I was almost completely unaware of this during the duration of the show, though I can remember distinctly at the end of the evening standing on the large porch steps outside, smoking a cigarette with some friends. This boy with his girlfriend walks out the main doors and down the stairs when the riled-up crowd of testosterone-fueled boys started chucking snowball after snowball at the unsuspecting couple.

I went to check on the couple, both of whom were scared, overwhelmed and hurt from the barrage of snow-covered ice. I talked with them, made sure they were OK, as any decent person should. Then the man asked me if I would walk out with them across the street to the parking lot where they were parked. I didn’t think I could do much, considering at the time I was six feet tall and maybe 135 pounds, but I figured that someone needed to do it.. No one said anything as we walked down the stairs and onto Forest Avenue. As we were about halfway across the large mainway, one of the hooligans yelled out something. I don’t remember what, but at the time it set off a switch in me. I turned around staring straight at them with as much intensity as I could muster in my eyes and in my physical stance. I started yelling at them, telling them to “grow the hell up” and things of that nature. I was angry, and I screamed at the top of my lungs “IF YOU MESS WITH THEM, YOU MESS WITH ME!”probably two or three times.

They all stood there, completely dumbfounded as to what to do with their defeated machismo and misguided anger. And I walked them to their car. I’m not sure about heroics. But I definitely used whatever small power I had in a small music scene to make sure that someone wasn’t going to be unfairly attacked.

Confronting white supremacists on their turf

The Rev. Doug Taylor, Lewiston

I have always been a strong civil rights advocate and I am proud to share the same dream as Martin Luther King Jr. When I started my inner-city children’s ministry, the Jesus Party, 16 years ago I did not have one African American child in attendance. Over the years that has changed and today our gatherings are much more colorful. In January 2003 the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacy organization, visited our community. As a religious leader I felt compelled to stand up against this hate group and filed for a permit from the city to protest them.

I was granted one and immediately started to organize a counter-protest. Originally their rally was scheduled to take place at the Memorial Armory on Central Avenue, but its location was changed to an Alfred Plourde Parkway address by city leaders due to concern of possible violence. Because my permit was set to the original site, I sought the city to change my permit to the new location and was denied by then-City Administrator Jim Bennett on the basis of tight security and possible liabilities that could occur.

I was outraged that a hate group from out of state could receive permission to spew their discontent and a local-yokel like myself was being denied of his rights. I felt that it was my obligation to take a stand for the sake of the children I ministered to. After much debate between the police department, city hall, local pastors and the Sun Journal it was strongly suggested that I join the Many and One Coalition that was organized to hold a rally at a separate location (Bates College Gymnasium) to show community unity at the same time as the hate group’s rally. I viewed this as cowardly and would have no part of it.

I was persistent in my effort to confront this evil head-on. It all came to a head on New Year’s Eve 2002 as I refused to leave city hall without a renewed permit. The city administrator and then-acting Police Chief Bill Welch had me arrested. I look back on this bittersweet experience and count it a blessing to have been detained by the police in the same manner as the early civil rights members of the 1950s and ’60s. After all of the controversy, debate and arrest we were still denied the rightful access to a permit, but ultimately our group did keep its promise and attended the hate group’s rally and was able to express our disgust for their actions. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would!


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