It’s been seven years since America renewed its love for heroes in uniforms. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, everyone wore NYPD and FDNY hats and T-shirts in honor of the brave men and women who climbed the stairs and fought to keep order in chaotic streets.
Americans raised millions of dollars for families of the fallen. For months, flags flew proudly from cars, trucks and emergency vehicles - where flags have always been displayed.
Today, there are memorials at the Pentagon, the World Trade Center site and in Shanksburg, Pa., so we will never forget the heroes of that day, living and dead.
As time passes, emotions calm. Life returns to normal and people in uniform slowly blend into the background.
It is not good for a country to lose sight of true heroism - or fail to recognize genuine heroes in a crowd of counterfeits.
To address this need, Matt Daniels, whom I have known since the days when we talked about father absence and later about a federal marriage amendment, has come up with a Web site dedicated to Americans who risk their lives for others every day.
The Internet, Mr. Daniels says, is becoming “our national parent, our national educator. It’s a transmission belt for values.”
But besides conveying legitimate information, the Internet is circulating “the worst in human nature” - pornography, violence and deification of “shallow celebrities,” he says.
Where will young people find real heroes? How will they learn their stories?
“The best place to start when you are looking for role models and heroes” are people in uniform, says Mr. Daniels, who, with support from venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, launched www.greatamericans.com on Veterans Day.
The goal is to create “YouTube” for real heroes, says Mr. Daniels. The site already hosts videos and stories about all branches of the military including the National Guard and Special Operations ; state troopers; fire, rescue and police officials; smoke jumpers; veterans; families of the fallen; and personnel with Emergency Medical Services, U.S. Border Patrol, Federal Emergency Management Agency, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The inspiration is personal, says Mr. Daniels, who grew up in the mean neighborhoods of Spanish Harlem, where he and his mother were beaten.
“We had people shot in the elevator in our building, stabbed out here on the street. Most of my friends went to jail; they destroyed their lives with drugs or they went nowhere,” Mr. Daniels says in a video introducing the new site. “And the worst part was that most of the people around me didn’t seem to know any other way to live.
“I got out of here because of a few good examples of role models in my life, people who were doing more with their lives than the negative examples around me. They made all the difference,” he recalls. More youth need to see positive stories of “ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things for the sake of others.”
I have another point to add.
In study after study, when students are asked who their heroes are, they rarely if ever mention a celebrity. Instead, they overwhelmingly say, “my parents,” “my mother” or “my father.”
Never forget. Heroism starts at home.
• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at Cheryl Wetzstein .