When dealing with one of the world’s more horrible murdering dictators, armies will try just about anything to take them down. Adolf Hitler seemed to be one of those dictators who just couldn’t be taken down. He even flaunted it in the face of his enemies, sending it across the airways, that he was still alive, even after they tried to kill him again. July 21, 1944, was one of those times when Adolf Hitler took to the airwaves to announce that the attempt on his life has failed and that “accounts will be settled.” Not only was Hitler good at dodging a bullet, but he was arrogant too.
On this particular day, Hitler had survived the bomb that was meant to take his life. He didn’t get off unscathed, however. Hitler suffered punctured eardrums, some burns and minor wounds, but nothing that would keep him from regaining control of the government and finding the rebels. In fact, it only took a mere 11½ hours, to put down the coup d’etat, that was supposed to accompany the planned assassination of Hitler. In Berlin, Army Major Otto Remer, believed to be apolitical by the conspirators and willing to carry out any orders given him, was told that the Fuhrer was dead and that he, Remer, was to arrest Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. But Goebbels had news for Remer. Hitler was alive. He proved it, by getting him on the phone, because the rebels had forgotten to cut the phone lines. Hitler immediately gave Remer direct orders to put down any army rebellion and to follow only his orders or those of Goebbels or Himmler. Remer obeyed and let Goebbels go. The SS then snapped into action, arriving in Berlin, which was now in chaos, just in time to convince many high German officers to remain loyal to Hitler.
What followed forth rebels was hideous. Arrests, torture sessions, executions, and suicides were the order of the day. Count Claus von Stauffenberg, was the man who actually planted the explosive in the room with Hitler. He had insisted to his co-conspirators that “the explosion was as if a 15 millimeter shell had hit. No one in that room can still be alive.” But it was Stauffenberg who would not be alive for much longer. He was shot dead the very day of the attempt by a pro-Hitler officer. There was no trial, and no second chance given. The plot was completely demolished.
Then, Hitler set out to restore calm and confidence to the German civilian population. At 1am on July 21, Hitler’s voice broke through the radio airwaves: “I am unhurt and well…. A very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible…and stupid officers had concocted a plot to eliminate me… It is a gang of criminal elements which will be destroyed without mercy. I therefore give orders now that no military authority…is to obey orders from this crew of usurpers… This time we shall settle account with them in the manner to which we National Socialists are accustomed.” The attempt on his life was over, and Hitler would live…to die another day.
Last night as my husband, Bob and I were heading out for our evening walk at about 7:15pm, we were met by a concerto of song coming from the pine tree in our next door neighbor’s yard. Of course, it was the birds settling down for the night, since it was heading into the evening hours. I was immediately reminded of the day of the total eclipse that Casper had just been in the center of. As the sky grew darker, the birds began hurrying to and fro in search of their places for the night. They began singing their evening songs, just as they were doing when we stepped out of our front door last night. Birds, of course, are programmed to begin bedtime preparations as the daylight starts to fade, unlike humans who might not go to sleep until the wee hours of the morning.
The concerto also reminded me of one of my sister, Cheryl Masterson’s favorite movies…The Sound of Music. Of course, the song they sang on that movie was The Hills Are Alive, and not The Trees Are Alive, but my imagination is allowed to make those little changes…basically taking a little poetic license, and change the wording a little bit to fit the situation. So, while I heard the melody of The Hills Are Alive, the words that sang out were The Trees Are Alive.
Since we began taking evening walks a number of years ago, we have found ourselves rather fascinated with the animal life around us. The birds flying here and there, with what appears to be no specific destination in mind; the rabbit with a broken leg that has managed to survive most of the summer, even though he can’t hop as fast as so many other rabbits; the dogs who are sure that we are their friends, even to the point of vying for our attention with the other dogs in their yard or next door; and even the deer, who stand and watch us, not moving unless we do something to appear to be coming toward them. They are all very interesting in the way they interact with people. The birds don’t seem to want to fly too far from their original spot to get away from us as we approach, almost as if they are saying, “I’m not scared of you.” The rabbits sit bravely still, hoping that we won’t notice them, sometimes allowing us to get only a foot or so away from them, providing we continue to walk along without stopping.
Animals are funny sometimes, doing things that almost seem like human activities, and even the wild animals who seem to want to interact with humans…from a safe distance, anyway. The mourning doves and other birds that like to look at us from their safe perch on the power lines or light poles above us, always strike me as funny. They know we are there, and they seem curious about us, but they don’t want to get too close, after all they aren’t stupid, just curious, as they allow us to share their space. And of course, there is nature’s version of Twitter…when a large group of birds flock to one tree, and everyone is tweeting at once…as was the case when we left for our evening walk last night.
What makes a hero? Is it untold bravery in the face of certain death, or is it simply being in the right place at the right time? Yesterday, my grandson, Chris found himself in just such a position. A position that would put Chris between a classmate and death. Chris was in his swimming class, and they were practicing life saving maneuvers. They had brought in another physical education class to help with their life saving class. The students had been told that there was going to be a mock drowning situation and they were going to perform the rescue, and in a perfect world, that is how the exercise would have proceeded. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.
The students were all in the water, and Chris noticed a young man who seemed tired and was not swimming very fast. He watched him for a moment, and then his attention was drawn elsewhere. Suddenly someone yelled out in panic from the side of the pool. Chris turned and saw that the young man was under the water and thrashing about. He immediately went into action, performing the maneuvers he had been taught as if on auto-pilot. He brought the young man to the pool’s edge, coughing and sputtering, but alive, and unharmed. We asked Chris what everyone had said afterward, expecting to give him a moment to bask in the glory and admiration that surely followed his heroic act, but in true Chris style, he pretty much blew it off with a simple and humble, “They said good job.” Typical of a hero to act like they didn’t do anything special, when we all know they did.
When Chris told us about the events that transpired at school, I was taken back to my youth. We went swimming every weekday at the Kelly Walsh pool in Casper. I had been going up there for several years, and I had finally reached the great height of 5 feet. To me that meant that I could go into the deep end of the pool, and I went and jumped in, and not right at the edge. When the realization hit me that the water was also 5 feet, putting it at the top of my head, I was already in trouble. As I thrashed around trying to find the edge, I thought I was going to die. Then I came up out of the water gasping for air and saw a girl swimming by. I coughed out the word “help” and she pushed me to the edge of the pool, and once I was there, she simply went on her way. To this day, I can see her face, even though I don’t know her name and could not thank her. I went back to the shallow water…grateful to be alive, and taught myself to swim, because I was never going to be in that position again. Still I would never forget the girl who saved my life.
As I thought about my grandson, who found himself in a position to be that person who saved the life of another person, I knew that he is a true hero. I knew exactly how the young man Chris saved will feel about that event for the rest of his life. It is very hard to forget the face of the person who saw you in a death struggle, and then reached in and pulled you out of death’s grip to safety again. What makes a hero? I know, and I think that young man in Chris’ swimming class yesterday knows too.