I don’t think I could have done it.
In my military reserve days, they taught us that when a hand grenade lands by you, just fall flat on your face on the ground. Make yourself as much a part of the earth as you can. If you’re lucky, the deadly explosive fragments will fly over you and … this is hard to admit but … become someone else’s problem.
But on Sept. 29, 2006, Master-Art-Arms Second Class Michael Anthony Monsoor made a different decision. A member of a Navy SEAL unit, he was on a rooftop in Ramadi, Iraq. He and members of his Delta platoon were there to train local Iraqis in their struggle against insurgents.
A grenade landed at their feet. There was no time to do a cost-benefit analysis. Monsoor yelled “Grenade!” and threw himself on the explosive to smother the impact. He was gravely wounded and died about a half-hour later. He was 25 years old.
If you know about this hero, it may well be because he is a local boy. Born in Long Beach in 1981, he grew up in Garden Grove and was graduated from Garden Grove High in 1999. While at Grove he played tight end for the Argonaut football team.
He joined the Navy in 2001, before the events of 9/11 prompted many others to seek military service. He excelled right away and graduated as a SEAL (Sea Air Land) warrior, trained in underwater demolition, parachute jumping, cold water combat and more.
Monsoor went to Iraq in 2006 with SEAL Team 3 where he further distinguished himself. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and finally, the Medal of Honor for bravery far above the call of duty.
Gone but far from forgotten, he is remembered in a variety of ways today. A Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Michael Monsoor has been commissioned. A mountain warfare training camp is named after him and on Friday, Michael Monsoor Memorial Stadium on the GGHS campus will be dedicated to his honor, as his Argonauts take on Woodbridge in the inaugural game of a brand-new facility.
I want you to think of yourself as a 25-year-old. A promising life still ahead of you. Healthy and full of energy and potential. Love, children, material success all await. There’s nothing to do but anything at all.
Would you be willing to sacrifice all that in an instant? Do you have such devotion to duty and your comrades that you would not hesitate to end your life so that others might live?
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty here. But it does strike me that perhaps we live in a society in which the word “hero” has lost much of its meaning. In our celebrity-drenched world, a singer or actor who admits to addiction or an unpopular sexual orientation is hailed as a hero.
Yes, I’m sure it takes some courage to risk making yourself the subject of ridicule or ostracism. There are little acts of bravery in everyday life. But they pale in comparison to what Michael Monsoor and many others have done.
There’s a difference between a hero and a celebrity. Most of the former never become the latter. We celebrate Michael Monsoor not only for what he did and what he sacrificed, but also for the example of real heroism: selfless action for others, regardless of the consequences.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesday.