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In the midst of entertaining guests and cooking turkey and shopping the Black Friday deals, those who celebrate Thanksgiving try to remember what it was they were thankful for in the chaos. Some of us are thankful for lack of want. Some of us are thankful for love. Some are thankful to be alive.
When Richard M. Fierro took his family to see his daughter’s high school friend in a drag show, Dave Phillipps of the New York Times reported him as saying, “These kids want to live that way, want to have a good time, have at it. I’m happy about it because that is what I fought for, so they can do whatever the hell they want.” Not a bad description of the blessings of freedom and democracy.
Fierro, who left the military as a major after 15 years of service and was awarded the Bronze Star twice, was still battling the repercussions of PTSD—an unceasing alertness for deathly danger—when his instincts propelled him forward as others died to tackle a man who felt compelled to murder people he didn’t know. Although he saved countless lives by stopping the shooter, Fierro will suffer renewed PTSD from his heroism. This time his family may suffer, as well. His daughter’s boyfriend was murdered. Fierro’s wife and daughter were injured. To Fierro, he was defending his family—a concept he expanded to include all the other people present. His relatives must be overwhelmingly proud. Fierro is blaming himself because he couldn’t save everyone.
People talk a lot about family around Thanksgiving—about the importance of love in making our lives meaningful. Not many of us are trained to physically defend our families, but we hope we would do our best if necessary. We already know stories of school teachers and strangers and friends who died doing their best. Some of us have broad definitions of family—the family of humankind. For some, the definition is very, very specific—perhaps eliminating even certain blood relatives for being “wrong.” Those with teeny tiny definitions of family often have teeny tiny definitions of love, as well.
How ironic that a man who gave so much for so long in the service of people he didn’t know should be the one who rose up once again…after other veterans were led to attack the country they had served. He suffers so the rest of us can do whatever the hell we want—without hurting anyone. This Thanksgiving, I am immensely grateful to all the veterans like Richard Fierro and others who understand what they fought for.