John Glenn. Alan Shepard. Gus Grissom. Wally Schirra.
We all know these names. They were the first Americans in space. They were astronauts and they were heroes.
But getting them into space required the dedication and effort of thousands of people.
Robert Gilruth–does anyone know who he was?
Not me. But today I saw the movie Hidden Figures and started looking into the character of Al Harrison. Obviously, I didn’t know about the three women whose lives are the main focus of the movie–Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. But according to NASA, there were so many people involved in getting the Mercury astronauts into space that even the white, Anglo-Saxon men are obscure to us today.
Only the names of the heroes have survived.
Yet, for every hero celebrated in the popular imagination, there are the scores and scores of unsung people without whom those acts of heroism would never have happened.
Sir Edmund Hillary had all those Sherpas getting him to the top of Everest.
Jacques Cousteau had all those workers to run the Calypso and keep tabs on things topside when he was underwater.
All the men and women who ever served in the armed forces have to thank the designers and builders of every single ship, aircraft, armored vehicle and piece of weaponry they’ve used from the beginning of history. When the call goes out to celebrate the troops, do we ever hear about those unsung people who’ve made it all happen?
The next time you hear the currently popular rhetoric about how everyone who has served in uniform is automatically a hero, I challenge you to think about the entire community that supports those troops–the supply chains, the families, the employees who pick up the slack when the soldiers deploy.
Because it is time to set aside the rock star mentality and realize that, to be a nation, to be a community, we are all in this together.