An American Hero

I was going to blog about vigilante justice (an oxymoron in most cases) in the west but then, well, the Fourth of July intruded on my thought processes.

I was traveling last week, really a necessity after the death of my mom two weeks earlier, and I returned yesterday, the Fourth of July, and became captivated by the History Channel and its hours on the founding of our nation.

This blog is not really about our west, but it is about the war that decided that future. I’ve always been unhappy that the publishing industry usually vetoed anything to do with early American history, particularly the American Revolution. No interest, they contended. Or too controversial. I sneaked several books through, mainly by starting them with a prologue in Scotland. (Yes, I can be very sneaky). But when I first started writing, I didn’t know about the “rules” and the “taboos.” Therefore, my first two books were the two “no no’s in publishing: the Civil War and the American Revolution.”

 The Civil War book escaped the taboo because it took place in the western theater of the war (New Mexico). The second, titled “Swampfire,” luckily fell into the hands of an editor who also loved early American history and was willing to take a risk.

One of my all-time personal heroes is Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox in South Carolina. Some of you out there might remember the Disney series called “The Swamp Fox.” Others might recall “the Patriot,” with Mel Gibson that was modeled after Francis Marion.

Francis Marion was a central character in “Swampfire,” and so I was delighted Sunday afternoon when the History Channel basically reported that he and other guerrilla leaders like him played a vital part in winning the war. 

After four years of  war, the British, stalemated in the north, turned their sights to the South and had they won we would be a far different nation today.

In the south, the British won battle after battle against inept American generals, and those victories encouraged the British loyalists and grew their number.   South Carolina became a caldron of divided loyalties. Father against son, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. When we talk about divided loyalties in this country, we think about the Civil War, but none can match the ferocity of the divisions in 1780. Homes were burned by neighbors. Those thought friendly to one side or another were tarred and feathered by previous friends.  When it was thought the British were winning in the south, many changed sides, and the war in the south seemed  lost, But then guerilla bands cropped up throughout South Carolina. They cut communication and supply routes, harried the British in hit-and- run attacks and gradually bled the British.

It was Francis Marion who, among three guerrilla commanders, fascinated me. His plantation was burned because of his patriot loyalties and he lost everything. He was fifty, old for the time, but tireless. He’d fought with the Patriots for years but when the British came to South Carolina, he took to the swamps with a small band of men.   He emerged at night to attack the British and was one of the few who didn’t succumb to illness.    He drank a glass of vinegar every day and urged his men to do the same. They didn’t, and he alone was one of the few among them who didn’t suffer from malaria. Now we know that vinegar repels mosquitoes, but he just knew it worked.

The swamps were not a welcoming place and he lived there for  a year, sleeping during the day and attacking at night. They moved constantly, never spending a night in the same place. He got the name Swamp Fox when a particularly brutal British officer named Tarleton was charged with catching him and finally gave up, saying it was impossible to catch the “swamp fox.” The tales and legends are many. The History Channel reported on Sunday that although he led men in battle he himself never shot a man. In all I’ve read about him, I’d notr heard that particular fact although I did know he decried vengeance and was known to be very fair. I read diaries of men who rode with him and their devotion to him was remarkable and never wavered. Francis Marion, a bachelor, finally married his cousin at fifty-four after the war.

I’ve always believed that fiction writers can never compete with the real life characters who paraded through our history and had such a great impact on it. Francis Marion was one of the people.

 I’m stretching a point and justifying this blog because the American victory in the south led to opening of the country, especially those lands  west of the original thirteen colonies. We owe so much to those who who founded, and fought for, this nation.    I hope we as a nation we never forget them.

Do you have a real life American hero?     I’ll select by random one of those who respond and send them a copy of  “Swampfire.”

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30 thoughts on “An American Hero”

  1. Hi Patricia! My hero lived in our more recent history and anyone who is a fan of old westerns will recognize his name– Audie Murphy. Before becoming a movie hero of the old westerns, he was a real life hero and was the most decorated American soldier of WWII. Later, he continued to perform heroic deeds that mostly went unsung. He traveled to Washington DC many times and advocated for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder before it was recognized as a valid medical condition. When I was a girl, I fell in love with his boyish good looks on the silver screen. Now, more than 40 years later, he continues to be my real life hero. He died much too young.

  2. Hi, Patricia. I lived in Marion, Iowa for the first 12 years of my life and went to church there until I graduated college and moved away. Marion has a Swamp Fox Festival every September 12 in honor of Francis Fox.

    I love reading about the American Revolution. Gilbert Morris wrote some (good) books in his House of Winslow series set in that time period.

    I would say, historically, I think of Sacajawea as a heroine of American history. She was a young woman (really a girl) with a 2-month-old baby, married to a not-so-pleasant French fur trader, and began the journey west with the Corps of Discovery. She was more valuable than her husband because she interpreted for Lewis and Clark as well as knowing about medicinal and edible plants.

  3. Oops, that should be, Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion instead of Francis Fox. Hey, it’s 3 a.m., so I’ll use that as my excuse. 🙂

  4. I was trying to think who I consider a real-life hero. You’ll probably think this is an odd choice because this man was born a Russian but is now an American citizen. His name is Yakov Smirnoff. He’s the bearded comedian who used to be on TV a lot and would say, “I love this country.” He has a show in Branson, and his patriotism puts most Americans to shame. His show is hilarious and you’ll laugh your head off, but you’ll also leave his theater proud that you had the great fortune to be born in America.

    Mr. Smirnoff is also an amazing artist and he painted the huge banner named Amerca’s Heart that hung over the 911 Ground Zero site. It had an American flag in the shape of a heart with the Stature of Liberty in front of it, and the message read: The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart. Hats off to my hero, Yakov Smirnoff.

  5. I would say that my real life American Hero is General Robinson Risner. During the Vietnam war I wore an MIA silver bracelet with his name on it. I really didn’t know much about him, just that he was missing in action and needed my prayers. So I prayed. After the war, I never knew whether he came home until about eleven years ago. I heard someone on a Christian television program talking about taking Lt. Col. Robinson Risner back into the tunnels of Vietnam to get the ‘monkey off his back’. I broke down and cried like a baby when I realized he was alive and home. I prayed as I started searching on the internet that I would find some way to contact him. God answered my prayers. I got onto a website of military personnel (have never been able to find that website again) and found General Risner’s email address. I wrote to him and received some lovely notes from him. He wrote a book about his time as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton. It is a hard book to read as it is so graphic but he was a hero. He developed a way for all the prisonors to communicate with each other (other than the traditional morse code). His faith in God is what gave him the strength to endure the terrible things that the Vietnamese did to him, but he also led many to the Lord during his time in captivity. He faced more trials after he returned home but his faith in God sustained him. I offered to send my bracelet to him but he told me to please keep it as a constant reminder that God does answer prayers. He is my American Hero.

    Thank you for allowing me to share about this great man. He did stay in the military afer he returned and made the rank of General.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  6. First, my condolences on the loss of your mom. Tough to lose a parent. You will be in my thoughts.

    American heroes…wow, there are so many. But I am thinking of the ones who aren’t often mentioned, the women. Whether they were the ones who simply moved into the frontier with their husbands, were spies in the Civil War, Rosie Riveters during WWII, those who championed for the vote or for equal job rights, sheroes are not mentioned as often as heroes and they should be!

    Peace, Julie

  7. my sympathy to you patricia for the loss of your mother
    thank you for still posting on a very interesting topic
    a glad off vinegar a day? ugh…i guess whatever it took…maybe i’ll try that here in the prime of mosquito season
    swamp fox does sound like a true hero…
    i can’t think of just one at this point that i would list…but i’ll say every man/woman who has been to war and served for us
    i always get choked up at the 4th of july parade when veterans walk by with the flag
    to think they gave everything for us…it’s very touching
    i also must give credit for the canines and horses that have given their lives to protect our country…though not aware they worked for an entire country–they did work out of the love for their master…and i think they deserve a little credit too

    ps–deb–i lived in cedar rapids for a short time and am still in the general area…interesting about the swamp fox days…maybe will have to check it out

  8. Enjoyed reading the comments.
    My heroes have always been cowboys-I grew up watching John Wayne tame the west and every place he went. To me, he represents what a true American patriot is and I list him, along with our military, as heroes. I thank them for their service and for representing my country.

  9. This is so interesting, Pat. I confess I never paid much attention in history class when I read about the Swampfox. I could kick myself. This guy played such an enormous role in defeating the British. I’m with Joye; I consider our men and women in the military as great American patriots.

    Again, I’m sorry about your mom’s passing. I hope you’re beginning to find some peace and comfort.

  10. My heroes have always been cowboys too! I think our heroes right now should be the soulders the is in Irac right now. So that is who I want to honor today! Take care of our guys!

  11. I like what you and others have said about Francis Marion, the Swampfox. A true hero by the sounds of it. God bless America’s heroes.

  12. I am very sorry to hear that you lost your mother. A man who takes care of his family with his wealth is a provider. A hero is a man who takes care of his family in all circumstances, especially when wealth is unavailable or unattainable. A man with a compassionate heart, strong principles, honor and humor will always be heroic to those who love him. Money cannot buy those qualities.

    My grandfather was my hero–the light of my life. He didn’t often show emotion, but he showed that he cared by the way he protected us and provided for us. My mom and dad were only married for a short time. She left him and moved back home with her parents, with whom we remained until they passed away. Mom didn’t remarry until I was a sophomore in high school. My stepfather was a wonderful, kind man who passed away less than a year after he and Mom were married. Standing beside my grandfather at the graveside service, I realized that he was crying. First time I ever saw “Paw Paw” cry. Years later, we had to have one of our dogs put to sleep. This dog had been Paw Paw’s pet. He and I cried together all the way home from the vet’s office. Yes, heroes can cry, and they will be the better man for having a caring heart. My hero cried, and he was the best man I’ve ever known.

  13. I watched the history channel this weekend also. They showed The Revolution. It showed all the battles George Washington was in. He lost so many battles but never gave up!!! He also set the standard for future presidents. We need another George Washington at this time. He will always be my hero.

  14. So sorry to hear about your mother.

    I love history and can never read or watch too much of it. Cannot believe I am among a minority. Would love to see more books about our early history.

    My father who is now 89 has always been my hero. He carries a piece metal in his back that is from the bomb that killed his tank driver in France during WWII. Only now is he sharing many stories about that time of his life.

  15. Patricia,
    So sorry to hear about your Mother. That is a very hard lost to deal with.
    I remember the “Swamp Fox” TV series. It was one of my favorites. I just looked it up out of curiosity. I was part of the Disney Presents series with 8 segments that ran from Oct. 1959 to Jan. 1961. The surprise was Leslie Nielsen stared as Marion. I discovered it can be watched on line. I’ll have to check it out.

    My American hero is the everyday military person. We concentrate on the Generals and big name figures and forget they didn’t do it by themselves. None of the wars over the years would have been won without the sacrifice of the young men, and now women, who lay their lives on the line to follow the orders of officers they pray know what they are doing. The ones who pay the biggest price, and we owe the most to, are the military personnel in their teens and 20’s who are on the front lines and are wounded or die. They and their families are the true American heroes.

  16. To me the great American heroes are the farmers who raise the crops that we eat every day. It’s not easy making a living on a farm nowadays, so my hat is off to those hardworking families who work hard every day so that we might have food on our tables.

  17. What terrific replies. And thanks so much for your words of sympathy.

    I really love the answer about the MIA General Risner. I’m so glad your prayers were answered and that you discovered he lived.

    I also love the answers about family members who are the quiet heroes of the past and even today, and all the women who, for the most part, have been forgotten but who have been the steel behind this nation’s growth.

    Keep them coming.

  18. I am also sorry to hear about your loss.
    My grandfather was my hero… he was a man that did not show his emotions, but always had a wink and small smile for me! It was sad to hear some of his stories about WWII…

  19. My heroes are the men and women who have served
    our country in all conflicts, especially in the
    Middle East. Our family has been represented by
    19 or 20 members in the military beginning with
    W.W.II. We have been blessed in having them all
    return home safely. We currently have a nephew
    serving in Afghanistan. He and all our service
    members are kept in prayer daily. God Bless

    Pat Cochran

  20. I totally agree with Patricia B, Pat C and the others … today’s military men and women are my heros. Not just today’s, but those who went before them. Those who fought for our freedom and the liberties we have today. Of course, I can’t overlook the cowboys, who paved the way for what we have today, too. A few months ago, I flew back from San Antonio with a special soldier, a high ranking Army officer, who had just left Brooke Medical Center visiting his wounded men. John was on his way back to Bagdad and I was so in awe of him and how he talked about the courage those wounded soldiers showed in their fight to adjust to their injuries and their quest to begin living a normal life again. We corresponded when he returned to the battlefield, since he was very interested in an article I did on a letter I discovered from my Uncle Vic who was wounded during WWII. His men and my uncle had one thing in common … they all said that the worst part of being injured is that they could no longer serve our country. So, again I salute the active military men and women, and especially the ones who gave so much of themselves after being wounded in combat. And, we certainly don’t want to forget the servicemen and women’s families who also give of themselves by sharing their loved ones with our country.

    Great thought provoking post, Pat. Thank you.

  21. I am so sorry to hear about your loss.
    I enjoyed reading about the “Swamp Fox”. He sounds like an interesting character. I am always fascinated by those who lived in the American Revolution era.

  22. My condolences – so sorry.

    I can’t believe any subject is taboo. I’m glad you wrote about it. I hated learning history in school – so dry and who knows how truthful. We have the history channel on more than any other station (my husband likes it all). A hero to me is someone that knows that they are risking their lives for others.

  23. Hi Pat, my filly sister. Your mom sure raised a wonderful daughter. May she rest in peace.

    I love this blog. I remember Disney shows about the swamp fox, I think.

    Our servicemen and women are true heroes, and I also admire firefighters. They march into the dark and flames knowing full well they might never walk back out.

    God bless you and yours! oxoxox

  24. Thank you for this fascinating post. My heroes are all the military men and women who are so selfless and devoted to our country. Swamp Fox sounds incredible.

  25. Couldn’t agree more with all of you about our service men and women who risk their lives daily to keep us free. They certainly are all American heroes.

    Thanks again for your condolences. No matter that you expect it, or even that that she was more than ready to join my father, there still remains a huge hole in the heart.

  26. Hi Pat,
    I’m late getting here, but wanted to say I am so sorry about the loss of your mother. As you say, no matter that you expect it, it’s still quite a shock when it happens, and something that never heals completely.

    I loved your post about the Swamp Fox! Very interesting, and you are so right about how overlooked this time period is in our history.

    I have a lot of heroes and people I admire–those in the armed forces, past and present, as well as firefighters, as Tanya mentioned, and police officers as well. So many individual commanders and leaders of our military and of our country come to mind. For me, I guess I would say if I had to choose one, it would be Abraham Lincoln. I cannot imagine the weight he carried on his shoulders, and the sadness. But he did the best he could and held the country together during one of the most trying times in our history.

    I recently have discovered that I love alternate history, too. These are not necessarily romance books, but my favorite author is Eric Flint, and he has a couple of books about the War of 1812 and what “might have happened” if things had been skewed a bit differently.

    Thanks for a very interesting post. I enjoyed it!


  27. (((((Pat))))) Praying for comfort for you and your family.

    Since I’m a Canadian, my heroes are the Mounties and members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

    And Pat, you may have been stretching things to justify your post, but it’s an excellent post nonetheless.

    Anita Mae.

  28. Pat Potter, one of my favorite writers, and a thoughful, giving person. I’m sure your mom was especially proud of you. My condolences.

    I pray every night for our service men and women serving around the world, and for their loved ones left at home to worry and wait. Heros every single one.

  29. my deepest sympathy, pat.

    my heroes are our parents/grandparents/great-parents, etc. i’m sure that life was not always easy for our ancestors…yet, they overcame life’s obstacles.

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