Categotry Archives: Heroes

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André de Jongh

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Categories: Heroes

adejongh.jpgAndré “Dédée” de Jongh, a beautiful Belgian nurse who helped hundreds of Allied airmen flee the Nazis during World War II, died on Oct. 13. Cause of death was not released. She was 90.

Born in Schaerbeek, Belgium, De Jongh was the youngest daughter of a Brussels schoolteacher. She trained as a nurse, but made a living as a commercial artist while volunteering for the Belgian Red Cross.
When the German army invaded Belgium in 1940, the 24-year-old decided to fight back. After much planning, she and her father began setting up a chain of safe houses from Brussels to the Spanish border to secretly harbor Allied forces from the German troops.

Although the British initially suspected a Gestapo trap, De Jongh convinced an intelligence officer from the British Embassy in Bilbao of her sincere wish to help. He agreed to reimburse her travel costs if she could successfully rescue Allied pilots, radio operators and navigators downed in Belgium. She did so, and in 1940, the Comet Line was born. De Jongh was given the code name “Postman,” though most members of the Resistance called her “Dédée.”

The Comet Line, a 1,000-mile trek through Belgium and occupied France, across the Pyrenees into Spain’s Basque country and out via the British colony of Gibraltar, allowed American and British aviators to escape German imprisonment. The route required the assistance of hundreds of Resistance supporters, all of whom risked arrest, torture and death for participating in the scheme. At the time, helping downed fliers escape was considered a capital offense. Organizers would recover fallen airmen, procure civilian clothing and fake identity papers, give medical aid to the wounded and provide both food and shelter to the men as they were led to safety.

De Jongh was escorting a soldier over the Pyrenees in January 1943 when a German collaborator betrayed her. The Germans interrogated her 20 times, but they refused to believe that this pretty, petite woman was the ringleader behind the Comet Line. At the time of her arrest, De Jongh had personally led 116 men, including more than 80 downed airman, over the mountains to safety. During its three years in operation, the Comet Line saved more than 700 pilots and soldiers.
For her participation, De Jongh spent nearly three years in prisons and concentration camps. When Allied armies liberated her from Ravensbruck, she was shaven, undernourished and gravely ill. Other participants in the Comet Line were not as fortunate; they were executed or died in the camps. De Jongh’s own father, Frédéric, faced a firing squad in 1944 for his participation.

After the war ended, De Jongh regained her health and returning to nursing. She spent several years working at a leper colony in the Belgian Congo, then became a matron at a hospital in Ethiopia.

In 1946, De Jongh received the George Medal, the highest civilian award for bravery available in Britain to a foreigner. For choosing “one of the most perilous assignments of the war,” she also received the Medal of Freedom With Golden Palm, America’s highest award presented to foreigners. The French named her a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur and the Belgians appointed her a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold and honored her with the Croix de Guerre With Palm. In 1985, King Baudouin elevated her to a countess.

De Jongh’s exploits during World War II were chronicled in numerous books, including “Little Cyclone” by Airey Neave (1954), “Silent Heroes: Downed Airmen and the French Underground” by Sherri Greene Ottis (2001) and “The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen From the Nazis During World War II” by Peter Eisner (2004).

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Seth DeShane

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Categories: Heroes

Seth A. DeShane, an Illinois teenager and animal lover, died on Jan. 4 after rescuing his aunt from a fire. He was 14.

Born May 28, 1992, DeShane was an eighth grader at Cambridge Junior/Senior High School in the small town of Cambridge, Ill. He liked hiking and fishing, watching science fiction films and reading mythology. A fan of country music, DeShane planned to become a singer/songwriter when he grew up.

Early in the morning of Jan. 4, DeShane realized his family’s Christmas tree was on fire. He woke up his aunt and helped to get her out of the house before returning to the burning building to save his two cats. When his aunt realized DeShane had gone back inside, she reentered the house to pull him out, but the thick smoke and raging flames forced her back outside. She then ran to a neighbor’s home and called 9-1-1 for help.

By the time firefighters from three area departments arrived on the scene, the entire front half of the two-story structure was fully engulfed. The preliminary cause of the blaze was malfunctioning lights on the Christmas tree, Chief Edward Bole of the Cambridge Fire Department said.

DeShane’s body was found inside a bathroom. Preliminary autopsy results show he died of smoke inhalation.

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Conrad Buchanan

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Categories: Heroes

Conrad Buchanan once risked his life to save another and paid a heavy price.
On Nov. 15, 1998, Buchanan was working as a mall security guard at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in California. At the end of his shift, he encountered Julie Light. The 68-year-old former actress and homemaker was grief-stricken over the recent death of her husband, Robert. She was also suffering from depression and ill with terminal cancer. In constant pain, Light decided to kill herself. She drove to the mall, wrote a suicide note, left it in her car and walked to the ledge of the mall’s parking garage.
Buchanan saw Light peering over the ledge and urged her to reconsider. But Light was determined to die. She yelled at the pedestrians on the ground to move out of her way, and at 3:15 p.m., leaped off the building and fell six stories. In an effort to save her life, Buchanan tried to catch the distraught woman. The impact broke his neck and her back. Light died soon afterwards at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. Buchanan, however, was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
The media declared the 26-year-old father of two girls a hero, and the public responded by sending him encouraging notes and phone calls. Actor Christopher Reeve wrote Buchanan a letter of encouragement. California Governor Gray Davis sent him a commendation.
“I think it was the right thing to do. I think he would have been traumatized if he had just sat there and not done anything,” Buchanan’s sister Melva said at the time. “He doesn’t have any regrets. That was something that he had to do.”
Buchanan was born in Panama City, Panama. He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 11 years old and grew up in Los Angeles. Buchanan worked in telemarketing and fast food before obtaining the security guard job. Seven months after the incident, he moved into a new wheelchair-accessible apartment in Long Beach, where he received 24-hour home care from his mother and nine medical professionals.
Buchanan died on Dec. 28 of unknown causes. An autopsy is pending. He was 34.

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Uli Derickson

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Categories: Heroes

Uli Derickson, the heroic Trans World Airlines flight attendant who negotiated with terrorist hijackers to save the lives of her passengers, died on Feb. 18 from cancer. She was 60.
Derickson was born Ulrike Patzelt in Aussig an der Elbe, Czechoslovakia, and raised in Bavaria. She worked as an au pair in Britain and Switzerland then immigrated to the United States in 1967 and became a flight attendant for TWA.
Derickson had been on the job for nearly 20 years when TWA Flight 847 was hijacked on June 14, 1985. While en route from Athens to Rome, two Lebanese terrorists took over the airplane and beat the pilot and the flight engineer. She was physically abused as well until one of them realized she could speak in German. At that point, she served as their translator and the passengers’ guardian.
Although she was terrified, Derickson maintained her composure. During the 36-hour ordeal, which involved several stops in the Middle East, she managed to persuade the hijackers to release 17 elderly women and two children. Knowing the terrorists would hurt or kill any Jews, she hid the passports of people with Jewish-sounding names. And when the ground crew in Algiers refused to refuel the plane without compensation, Derickson charged $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of jet fuel to her Shell credit card.
Most of the passengers, including Derickson, were released from captivity in Algiers on June 17. However, 39 American remained on the plane for 17 more days until Israel agreed to release 31 Lebanese prisoners. Thanks to her quick thinking and ability to remain calm under extreme pressure, all but one of the 152 passengers and crew survived the hijacking. Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver, was beaten and shot to death by the terrorists. His body was dumped on the tarmac in Beirut. Two other U.S. servicemen — Navy diver Clinton Suggs and reserve Army officer Kurt Carlson — were also beaten.
In the years following the hijacking, Derickson received numerous death threats from extremist groups. Some threatened her for not doing enough to shield the Jewish passengers; others wished her harm because they felt she did too much to help them. She also testified in West Germany against Mohammed Ali Hamadi, one of the hijackers who murdered Stethem. He was convicted and received a life sentence.
Derickson continued to fly until her retirement in 2003, and was the first woman to receive the Silver Cross for Valor. Her harrowing experience was also recounted in the 1988 TV movie “The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story.” Lindsay Wagner played Derickson in the film, which received five Emmy nominations.
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Lee Abrams

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Categories: Heroes

When a man raped her 15-year-old foster daughter in the stairwell of her high school, Oleta “Lee” Kirk Abrams was horrified. When the authorities treated her daughter like a piece of meat, Abrams became infuriated.
No one offered compassion to the teen after she was assaulted. The police kept her from her family and refused to let her call home. At the hospital, the girl was kept waiting for an hour before a doctor examined her. And once the physician entered her room, he made jokes. The hospital never gave her a pregnancy test or checked her for venereal diseases.
In 1971, Abrams and two other women co-founded Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), the nation’s first rape crisis center. Based in Oakland, Calif., the center runs a 24-hour rape crisis hot line (510-845-7273), and provides counseling, educational programs and survivor advocacy services to hundreds of women each year. BAWAR also sends rape survivors to prisons to talk to sexual predators about the long-lasting impact of their crimes.
Abrams was the first person to accompany rape survivors to court when they testified against their attackers, and the first victim-witness advocate for the Alameda County district attorney’s office. In this position, she taught police investigators, hospital workers and prosecutors how to deal with special victims.
The Montana native earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from Emerson College in Boston. She was accepted into the master’s program at the University of Pittsburg, but left school to get married. After moving to Berkeley, Calif., in 1959, she became a stay-at-home mom and gardener. Abrams planted 250 rose bushes in her yard, and when they bloomed crowds gathered to admire her handiwork. From 1984 to 1999, she taught at Hintil Kuu Ca, a preschool for Native American children in the Oakland public school system.
Abrams died on Jan. 8. Cause of death was not released. She was 77. Services will be held in her garden next May or June, once the roses are in bloom.

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