We'd like to think that if a life-or-death situation landed at our feet, some magic adrenaline monster inside us would step forward to save the day. Like we'd turn into the Hulk, but without the greenness, anger, or shredded denim. The reality, of course, is that the vast, vast majority of people stand around and stare, muttering something about waiting for help to come along.
So let's once again stop and salute the nobodies who stepped up in the face of disaster when no one else would.
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Gary Wilson: mysterious drifter bound for Memphis. Truck stop vagrant or angel? You be the judge after you hear what he did.
Despite having two mannish names, Keaton Mason was a woman, and more pertinent to this story, a pregnant woman in labor. She was on her way to the hospital with her fiance when the baby decided a truck stop was just as good as a hospital to get born in (babies are pretty stupid). This particular baby came out in the usual way -- via stork exiting the vagina carrying a baby -- but she wasn't breathing, because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. That's bad news anywhere, but at a truck stop, it's kind of the worst.
If they'd just kept going to the next stop ...
Despite having just given birth to a new person, Mason had the strength and good sense to scream for help while her husband-to-be dialed 911. Surely among the worldly drivers and good time girls standing idly by there would be someone who knew what to do -- and there was. A long-haired, bearded man holding a sign that said "Memphis" came forward. The sign wasn't just a trendy suggestion for the new baby's name, it was Gary Wilson's hopeful destination.
"Coincidentally, I was going there for baby back ribs."
While everyone else was freaking the hell out, Wilson freed the cord from the girl's neck and began to rub her back. The first one seemed intuitive, but how did he know to rub her back to get her breathing? Magic? Was he Jesus? Eventually, Gary "Jesus" Wilson took over the 911 call and talked to the dispatcher directly, receiving directions on how to cut and tie off the umbilical cord and get the baby's college fund all set up. For his trouble, the truck stop gave Wilson a meal and a place to sleep. But he was gone by the next morning, taken back up to heaven. Or in the back of a pickup to Memphis, whatever.
Like Michael Landon, but with more hobo stink.
Laurie Ann Eldridge was a 39-year-old single mom working on her front yard garden when she noticed something weird -- her daffodils were blooming early. Also, there was a car stuck on the railroad track near her house. In the car was an elderly woman who thought she was on the road to the mall 60 miles away.
In the same moment that Eldridge noticed Angeline Pascucci stuck on the track, she heard the unmistakable wail of a train coming from around the bend. Suddenly, this peaceful gardening moment was a cliche scene in a terrible action movie. Thanks to the turn in the track, the engineer couldn't see the car stuck on the rails, and Pascucci obviously wasn't in charge of her faculties at that second. So the only person who knew a gruesome tragedy was about to strike was Eldridge.
"It was just like that Denzel Washington movie with the train, Training Day."
It's important to know that Eldridge had a disabling back injury and hadn't run in 10 years, but she sure as hell didn't have enough time to skip her way over to Pascucci -- instinct kicked in, and Eldridge ran. Barefoot. Double unfortunately, Pascucci was so disoriented that this frantic gardener must have looked like a big city carjacker to her, and she wouldn't budge from her soon-to-be demolished car. Would you, if you thought the Sears Elderly Woman's Department was only a few minutes away? Of course not, which was why Eldridge had to reach through the car window, unlock the door, and wrestle the old lady out of her car. The two rolled down an embankment like mismatched lovers in a romantic comedy.
The train came by soon after and slammed the car clear off the tracks. Pascucci was unhurt and presumably grateful. Or confused as shit. Eldridge, on the other hand, took away some severely cut up feet from all the splinters she'd stepped on during the rescue. She would later receive a Carnegie Hero Fund Award for her heroism and patience with the elderly.
"She showed the type of elder patience unseen since Mark Baker helped his nana set up her Skype account."
Hideaki Akaiwa was just a regular guy working a regular job when the 2011 Tohoku earthquake shook his world apart. The good news for Akaiwa was that he was several miles inland when the 130-foot tsunami struck his town. The bad news was that his wife and mom weren't so lucky.
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"Fuck you, ocean. I'm not done with them yet."
When the ocean itself swallows your city, what do you do? Common sense and the 1998 disaster film Deep Impact tell you to make for higher ground as fast as you can and hope that your loved ones do the same. Fortunately for everyone involved, Akaiwa had opted for watching Armageddon instead of Deep Impact. Akaiwa's neighborhood wasn't just wet, it was under 10 feet of water. While everyone else was waiting around for the government or international aid groups to show up, Akaiwa found a wetsuit and scuba gear and started swimming.
At this point you might be thinking, "Big deal. I swim everyday," which makes you both a liar and a dummy, because when Akaiwa put on his wetsuit and started diving into what remained of his neighborhood, he wasn't swimming through the beautiful clear waters of the Bahamas, kissing on dolphins and stealing coral and whatnot. He was swimming through cold, dark water filled with chunks of buildings and downed power lines. Akaiwa found his house, and in it he found his wife up to her neck in water, gasping for air. He pulled her to safety, and rescue #1 was complete.
Akaiwa, displaying a pimp hand so strong that it must be gloved when not in use.
When his mother didn't turn up in the next few days and the ocean was still hanging around like that one old high school friend who can't take a hint, Akaiwa returned to the water, swimming until he found her on the second floor of her house, just waiting around for help. Full success on rescue #2.
With all of his relatives rescued, Akaiwa hung up his wetsuit and let rescue services handle the rest. Or he would have, if this was a normal person. Instead Akaiwa geared up, packing a knife, work gloves, a flashlight, some green tea (because Japan), some water, and a change of clothes. Then he slapped on some sunglasses and got right back to rescuing complete strangers from the icy flood waters. In fact, he cut off the interview that gave the press the story so he could continue looking for survivors. After apologizing to the reporter talking to him, of course.
And apparently making them wetter than the waters he was about to dive into.
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Steven Maida, Erik Bertrand, and Ryan Ballard were three regular community college students going to class on a regular old Tuesday morning. The sad truth is that when you set up any story with "a regular morning at a regular school," anyone who's watched the news can fill in what's going to happen next.
*Sigh* ... Just once.
Twenty-year-old Dylan Quick also went to Lone Star Community College, but he wasn't what you'd call "regular." Unless you consider fantasizing about cannibalism, necrophilia, and cutting off faces and wearing them as masks "regular." Quick was a few cards short of a full deck, assuming the deck represents mental wellness in this scenario. And one day, he went on a stabbing rampage.
On the morning of April 9, 2013, Ballard was walking to biology class when he noticed a few splatters of blood on the stairs, first in small drops, then in puddles. And that was when he realized the people around him were screaming and running like chickens with their heads cut off, which wasn't a very bad analogy, he later found out. Seconds later, he saw the first stabbing victim -- a girl who'd been knifed in the cheek. Then he heard someone yell "Stop that guy!" and everything clicked. It had only been about 10 seconds from the moment he noticed the blood to the moment he realized he was about to go full hero.
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"BY THE POWER OF PUNCH-SKULL!"
Maybe the story goes this way because it's Texas and everyone there secretly thinks they're a badass cowboy, but Ballard was only one of three students who tackled and stopped Quick, who had already stabbed 14 people in the face and neck by this point. To truly appreciate how ordinary these heroes were, you have to read how Maida, or Cheesin365, framed the story on Instagram:
Making this one of the rare occasions where "cops suck" was immediately followed by "I can do better."
Then he posted a picture of himself in the back of a cop car as evidence that he was telling the truth:
Then he tweeted stuff like:
So the next time you judge young punks for writing ridiculous status updates and tweets, just know one of those guys might stand between you and a knife in the face.
Dennis Soules was an addiction counselor visiting a friend who was in danger of relapse. Of course, when you're trying to help a non-celebrity drug addict friend out of a tough time, you're going to find yourself in a less than glamorous environment. And that was how Soules ended up at the White Towers Motel, the scene of a disaster and/or comedy of errors.
Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/QMI
There's no way you make it through the rest of this entry without "Yakety Sax" popping into your head.
Soules was with his troubled friend when he heard a cry for help from the floor above. Not a metaphorical cry for help, a real one. And the cry sounded suspiciously like a kid or a very advanced cat. Either way, Soules bolted upstairs. There he found a man in his underwear trying to put out a mattress fire with cups of water while his two children huddled by the open door in fear. Soules later found out that the mattress was on fire because a baby bottle had rolled under the bed and numbnuts had the brilliant idea to use a lighter to find it.
"Can't reach it ... maybe I can knock it out from under there with my trusty gas can."
Soules scooped up the kids and got them down the hall. Then he found the nearest fire extinguisher and rushed back to the room to help. Only he couldn't, because the extinguisher didn't work. Soules ran to the front desk to retrieve a replacement; once he got back to the fire, he hit the trigger ... and found that the second extinguisher was also unable to perform its only function.
By then, the fire had spread beyond even a broken fire extinguisher's ability to pretend kill it. Soules put the kids in his coat and carried them out of the motel. When they were safe, he returned to the room to retrieve the father and other guests who still hadn't left their flaming home because they were packing up their belongings. While some of us would have said "screw it" and let them spend their last moments filling their garbage bags with bongs and Bob Marley posters, Soules insisted that the residents leave the smoke-filled building.
Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/QMI
It marked the first time a Canadian had raised his voice in 17 years.
Once everyone was safely outside, including the scantily clad father, Soules drove to a department store to buy the idiot who'd started the fire some damned clothes.
Didar Hossain was a garment worker earning about $68 a month in Bangladesh. Opposite his factory was Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial structure that housed shops, offices, a bank, and, unfortunately, another garment factory at the top of the building.
Satan's Jenga, if you will.
We say "unfortunately" because it was later revealed that Rana Plaza was never meant to hold heavy manufacturing equipment, certainly not on the top four floors, which were built without permits. It was like putting a factory on top of a tree house, except tree houses have the benefit of a strong root system. Rana Plaza had so many cracks that inspectors wanted the building shut down. The owners of the factory said "No thanks" and told workers they'd lose their jobs if they didn't come to work. So far, so awful, right? It gets worse.
Rana Plaza collapsed on April 24, 2013. According to Hossain, the building went from eight stories to three, with thousands of people trapped inside. Like everyone else on this list, Hossain wasn't content to hang out in the safety of his not-collapsed building while others were suffering. So even though the security guard tried to keep him and the other workers in the building, Hossain pushed him aside to get to life saving.
We repeat: He was fighting to get into this "building."
He had no idea he was walking into the most horrific building disaster since the World Trade Center bombings. By the time the "rescue" effort was over, the death toll was over 1,100 people, some of them already dead when Hossain started helping out. So picture smoke, dust, screaming, mangled metal, and corpses everywhere, and then try to imagine yourself not backing out and walking away from what we should presume hell will be like. Hossain went forward, even though rescuing the ones who were still alive meant getting them out from between stacks of building stories.
Hossain pulled survivors out, one after another. On Day 2 of his efforts, he found a little girl with a trapped hand. For five whole hours he stayed with her, trying to get her out. Finally, they both admitted the only way to free her from the rubble was to cut off her hand. Still with us? Hossain left the building to get help, obviously. But the one doctor he found in the crowd outside wasn't interested in walking into a death trap, so he handed Hossain a knife and some anesthetic and said "Good luck!"
How easy would it have been to just pretend like that conversation never happened? Or to dig deeper into the crowd for another few hours in the hopes that anybody else would step forward? Hossain didn't give himself the option. He went back to the girl and did emergency surgery while they both screamed and cried at the same time. Then he tied off her wound and got her out. This is her:
"My phantom limb is giving the bird to everyone involved with that building."
Again, most of us would have said "Yep, I've done more than my part" and gone home to start our PTSD therapy. But Hossain kept going, eventually pulling 34 people out of the rubble, and performing TWO MORE amputations in the process.
Later, after all this horrible shit, Hossain would visit the girl in the hospital. And the first thing he did was apologize for not being able to save her hand. Then we assume the heavens opened up and Hossain ascended to join the ranks of angels, or at least ask them where the hell they were that day.
Paul K Pickett can be contacted at email@example.com. Or you can become a better person by visiting his friend's website (http://international-justice.com) to learn about human rights and international justice.
Related Reading: Looking for more nobodies who came through in the clutch? Click here to read about the random kid who filled in for Keith Moon when he passed out during a Who concert. Next, read about the window cleaner who stops suicides as a side job. And if you're more interested in the unknown heroes who save your life each day, this article will acquaint you with Norman Borlaug, the man whose disease-resistant crops have saved more than a billion people.