“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

— Arthur Ashe

 

The words come not from a decorated general or a world leader or a poet, but from a tennis player, a quiet, selfless man who served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army but never went to war.

In the jargon of sports, Arthur Ashe fought fierce battles on the tennis court. In his personal life, he fought heart disease and AIDS, which he contracted from a blood transfusion.

An African-American who excelled in what was then a white man’s game, he fought for civil rights and social justice at home and around the world. Arthur Ashe was a brave man.

In his own way, to so many who admired him and looked to him for inspiration, he was a hero.

So today, as we observe Memorial Day, as we honor our fallen heroes of real-world wars, we look to a man who was never tested on the battlefield to articulate the meaning of heroism. “True heroism,” Ashe said, “is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

The words speak so simply but so eloquently to the sacrifices made by the men and women who have given their lives — their precious young lives — in the service of their country.

Army Spec. Wade A. Slack of Waterville was killed fighting for his country in Afghanistan this month and when friends and loved ones gathered to honor his memory, no one spoke of any quest for glory in his pursuit of military service.

He was on a mission to serve, to serve his country, his community, his family. Wade Slack, just 21 years old, made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of others and earned the title “hero,” as so many have done before him and, tragically, so many will in the future.

Today, and every day, we honor the heroes who serve on our behalf, who protect us from our enemies, who inspire our gratitude and admiration while asking nothing in return.