Spotlight shines on real heroes

Published 9:15 am Tuesday, February 8, 2011

As it is in most cases, real heroes would rather not have the spotlight cast in their direction.

There are real heroes that walk among us. Because the majority of them refrain from sticking out their chests and bragging, “look at me,” we could walk right by a real hero without noticing.

Again, as so often is the case, the stories of real heroes are rarely told. Even if they were, those acts of bravery are usually buried deep inside a newspaper or sandwiched between murder and mayhem stories on the TV’s evening news.

When shots ring out or there’s a terrible crash on the freeway, you can bet that’s the lead story on TV or in the newspaper. Sadly, the “good news” stories are few and far between…but not today.

I’m going to share not one, but two acts of heroism. One saved a life; the other saved a flag.

On Saturday, I covered an award ceremony at the Woodland Fire Department. One of their brave firemen, 22-year-old Johnathon Collier, disregarded his own safety last month by single-handily rescuing a man trapped inside a burning vehicle.

As is typical of a real hero, Collier would have rather been at home Saturday morning than standing in front of a large crowd gathered at the Woodland Fire Station. He was noticeably uncomfortable as the spotlight was aimed in his direction.

Despite his low-key demeanor, this young man needed to signaled out for his heroic actions. Because he bravely stared an extreme emergency in the face and acted on gut instinct without regard to his own safety, a Murfreesboro man is alive today.

If I’m in trouble out on the road, I want Johnathon Collier somewhere close.

My second heroic tale has nothing to do with life-saving skills, but rather a patriotic spirit.

As I was leaving work on Monday night of last week, I noticed the American flag displayed in front of our Ahoskie office was dangling about halfway down the pole. It was nighttime, cold and I was tired….thus leading to a self promise that I’d take care of it on Tuesday.

Tuesday came and went without any action on my part to take care of the problem. Knowing that I had to be in Gates County on Wednesday morning for a meeting, I vowed to fix the ailing flag upon my return to Ahoskie.

By the time I got back, the flag was proudly blowing in the breeze from its normal perch atop the pole, but not due to the efforts of anyone inside the office.

I was informed that a total stranger stopped by and volunteered his services to fix the problem…one he determined to be a broken clip that latches onto an eye ring on the flag.

Here’s the kicker….he refused to accept any money for the clip he purchased. Plus he refused to be paid for his time.

I rushed out the door to catch this real hero just seconds before he exited our parking lot.

He was sitting inside the work van he was driving as I approached the window. After I told him who I was, thanked him for his help and asked for a bill, he again refused to accept any money.

I knew in my heart he was a military veteran and at least he confirmed that fact. When I asked for his name, he told me he was a proud American that loved our nation’s flag. He finally, after a bit of prodding on my part, revealed his identity – Randy Ferguson of Roanoke Rapids. He works for Shepherd Electric Supply Company in the same town and was making a delivery in Ahoskie.

After he left, I made a call to Shepherd Electric and spoke to the manager, telling her I was of the opinion that Ferguson was a good ambassador for their company.

He’s also a hero in my book, as is Johnathon Collier.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications and can be reached at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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