Acts of conspicuous courage are hard to forget

Dooper's memories

Opinion: Columns

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John Stanger

The hero is no braver than an ordinary person, but he is braver five minutes longer. 


I remember five incidents where conspicuous courage was displayed:

On a cold Sunday morning over 60 years ago, I saw the Balloon Man save a young boy from being hit by a car.

My family lived on Oak Park Avenue very near the intersection with Chicago Avenue, and the Balloon Man sold his balloons on both the northwest corner and the northeast corner of the intersection.

On this specific Sunday morning, he was selling on the northeast corner when a young boy started to cross Chicago Avenue into the path of a westbound car.

The Balloon Man released his balloons, dashed into the street and carried the boy to safety.

On another occasion, I saw a member of my Latin class being harassed outside of the high school on a fall afternoon during my senior year. A self-styled tough guy, ringleader of a group of high school thugs, was trying to egg my classmate into a fight while his followers surrounded my classmate.

Suddenly, one of my classmates pushed through the circle of thugs and stood next to my friend who was being harassed.

Within a minute, five other guys joined him and told the hoodlums to beat it. The tough guys quickly dispersed.

During a swimming class at the high school, one of my classmates got a cramp in his leg while swimming, and I saw him go under the water.

The teacher saw the boy go under, but before he could react, a member of the class jumped into the water and brought the boy safely to the side of the pool where he was lifted to the deck and placed face down.

Fortunately, he had gone under only once. Before respiration could be applied, he coughed up some water and said he was OK. He was then helped to the locker room by the teacher.

On a summer afternoon when I was 14, the neighbor lady was burning papers in her backyard receptacle when her dress caught on fire and she started screaming.

As I saw this happen, I froze, but her 18-year-old grandson grabbed a large rug off of the porch railing, leaped down the stairs and covered his grandmother with both the rug and his body.

Fortunately, the lady sustained only minor burns on one leg. The grandson was unharmed.

During my high school years, I frequently saw a tall man walking by my house heading south on Oak Park Avenue around 7:30 a.m.

One Saturday I saw him at the Main Library and struck up a conversation with him. He told me that he lived with his widowed mother in a house five blocks north of our home and his name was Jerry. The man had a noticeable limp, and he said he had been wounded during WWII.

The following story of courage was witnessed by a friend of mine who lived next door to the man and his mother:

One day while Jerry was working in his garden, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the house, and his mother screamed for help.

Jerry sped up the stairs, burst into the kitchen and carried his mother to safety into the backyard. When he put his mother on the lawn, his injured leg collapsed.

Both Jerry and his mother were taken to the hospital by ambulance. They were soon released, and when they got home, they saw that the kitchen had sustained only minor damage.


John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor  (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn't gotten far in 79 years.

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