High School, Third Place Winner – 2016 Essay Winner
Teacher Megan Floto

When we think about the incredible bravery of our troops, we usually imagine fighting in
war, boldly defending freedom and equality from cruel injustice. Yet this is not the only battle our
military must fight: often times, their troubles follow them home. Many veterans are plagued by
poverty, mental illness, even the threat of suicide. However, even off the battlefield, they retain
the honor, courage, and commitment that makes them heroes, showing that heroism can exist
anywhere where good people take a stand. The men and women of the military, as well as the
good people in my life, have shown me that someday, I can be just as virtuous.

The first virtue is honor, or the unrelenting adherence to our morals in the face of
hardship. For instance, even though our soldiers come home, they can still lose their houses –
indeed, about 10% of all homeless people are veterans. As a result of their homelessness, they
struggle with health issues, unemployment, and degradation from society. Yet despite these
challenges, an overwhelming majority of veterans never commit a violent crime, holding their
heads high through adversity. In my life, Nelson Mandela has always been a symbol of honor.
Though he was brutally imprisoned for 27 years and forced to break limestone until the dust
permanently damaged his eyesight, he carried himself with such dignity that he won the respect
of many of his guards, even inspiring one of them to write a novel about Mandela. Mandela, like
the members of our military, endured strife without letting go of his morals, creating a noble
example for me to emulate.

The second virtue is courage, or the ability to do things that frighten us. For many
soldiers, mental illness is one of those things. Veterans are commonly beset with PTSD, social
anxiety, schizophrenia, OCD, and addiction, disorders can make some of the most basic
aspects of life, like interacting with others or completing daily tasks, seem terrifying. These
afflictions would justifiably make any person feel like climbing into bed and permanently hiding
from the world, and yet countless members of the military refuse to be daunted and combat
these illnesses, whether it be by getting professional help, starting a twelve step plan, or simply
by reminding themselves of what they’re fighting for and pushing through. Someone I know who
demonstrates courage is my friend Nico, who was frequently bullied as a kid for his anxiety
disorder. On many occasions, he was afraid to go to school and face the comments that were
waiting for him. However, years later, not only did he overcome his anxiety, he started an
anti-bullying club at our school to help others who were in his situation. The courage shown by
Nico and by the members of the military inspires me to confront my fears as well.

The final virtue is commitment, or the unflinching dedication to seeing life change for the
better. For some veterans, commitment can be something as seemingly simple as getting up in
the morning. Often, the trauma of war can make them completely lose hope and take their lives.
In fact, the suicide rate of veterans is 21% higher than that of civilians. However, whether or not
they give in to despair, our soldiers never go down without a fight. Instead, they commit
themselves to a brighter tomorrow and summon the strength to live another day. They endure
life’s slings and arrows time and time again without ever giving up. To me, the person who most embodies this kind of determination is my mom. She came to San Diego as an immigrant in
pursuit of the American Dream with only $49. Her first job as a babysitter offered meager pay,
but she never thought about heading home. Even after she overcame these challenges, the
world had more in store for her. Six years ago, she was laid off from her company and
diagnosed with cancer within a month. Still, through it all, she gritted her teeth and moved
forward. Eventually, her perseverance paid off: her cancer was treated, and in a few months,
she found a new job even better than her old one. The commitment of our veterans and of my
mom encourage me to get through bleak times by working towards a new dawn.

Ultimately, the moral fortitude shown by the military after returning home and by the
people close to me teach me that heroes don’t just exist in war zones. By sticking to my beliefs,
facing my fears, and striving for a promising future, I can become a better person. My hope is
that by following the examples set by our troops, someday I, too, can inspire others value honor,
courage, and commitment.

Bio: 2016 Essay Contest Winner High School THIRD PLACE: Everyday Heroism by Danica Chen, a grade 10 home school student submitted by teacher Megan Floto.

The Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation gratefully acknowledges the financial support of its education program, provided by San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) and Major Glenn Ferguson (USMC-retired).