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Diane Dimond
6 Feb 2016
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The Real America


Sometimes America seems like an ugly place to live. The Associated Press recently reported that there were 53 mass shooting deaths in the United States in the past month. Shocking, and the details are gruesome. Among the killings was a pair of triple homicides of police officers in California and Pennsylvania; a father near Tacoma, Wash., thought his wife was cheating, so he killed his five children and himself; an angry ex-husband gunned down eight people at the North Carolina nursing home where his former wife worked; an unemployed Vietnamese immigrant in Binghamton, N.Y., slaughtered 13 innocents at a civic center before committing suicide.

But I don't want to dwell on the ugly today. Not today.

Let's concentrate on what's good about Americans: the instinctive values and integrity found in the vast majority of us who would never commit a crime, let alone mass murder. Americans who would automatically step up like Captain Richard Phillips did.

This career merchant seaman was just doing his job when heavily armed teenage pirates commandeered his container ship, the Maersk Alabama, off the coast of Somalia and demanded a $2 million ransom. The 53-year-old Phillips, a husband and father to two college-age students, immediately ordered his 19-man crew to lock themselves in their cabins and he volunteered to be the pirates' prize. Part of Phillips' deal was that he and the pirates disembark into one of the lifeboats and allow the cargo ship to proceed to port.

That is a hero. Phillips' calm response reminded me of another hero, another captain named "Sully" who safely landed a plane full of passengers in the Hudson River, also not losing a single soul in his charge.

Phillips is more than the sum of the parts of his captivity and rescue. He personifies the best of who we are. He commands a ship under the American flag and his cargo was United Nations food and humanitarian supplies bound for Kenya. That's also what Phillips was protecting at that split second he surrendered himself.

Two weeks before the world's attention focused on this international crime scene, Phillips had been home in Underhill, Vt., living a typical American life. Phillips is described as a modest, regular Joe, one of eight children who worked hard for what he wanted, putting himself through college by driving a cab in Boston.

On an Internet video of a 2008 Christmas gathering, Phillips is heard discussing his next voyage in a New England accent reminiscent of one of the gang from the TV show "Cheers." It's clear he has a wry sense of humor, but he's also described as an intense and "by the book" man, a fierce, competitive athlete who still plays basketball at the local YMCA. He doesn't like to lose.

So, it came as no surprise to his pals when Phillips tried to escape his lifeboat prison by jumping overboard one night and trying to swim to a nearby U.S. Navy vessel. It also came as no surprise to his crew when they learned Phillips had survived the ordeal. Perched on the deck of the very vessel Phillips had insured with his life, they joyously displayed American flags and pumped their fists in the air at the news that their captain would soon be reunited with them.

Phillips spent five days in that cramped, hot boat with the nervous teenage pirates. In the meantime, other Americans converged on the scene, just doing their jobs with the U.S. Navy and the FBI hostage rescue team. It was clear the pirates lacked a plan B. When they ran out of fuel, food and water, the pirates agreed to be tethered to the U.S. Navy destroyer Bainbridge. Under cover of darkness one night, the Bainbridge crew ingeniously shortened the 200-foot line to just 100 feet. That gave Navy SEAL sharpshooters bobbing up and down on the destroyer's fantail a better shot. They are trained to shoot from unstable platforms and that day they didn't miss the three pirates below.

Once rescued, Phillips' first reported statement was memorable: "The real heroes are the Navy, the SEALs, those who have brought me home," he said. I suppose Phillips has a point. Just as he had done, those other Americans put their lives in jeopardy to save him. But I maintain it was that first selfless act of surrender that's most impressive. In a day when the title "hero" is misapplied to movie stars and big-league athletes, it's humbling to be exposed to the real deal.

To put it in perspective: When we read about the "53 mass shooting deaths in the past month," perpetrated by unbalanced people, let's remember there are countless millions more perfectly balanced Americans. Many of whom are completely suited for hero status.

Visit Diane Dimond's official website at for investigative reporting, polls and more. To find out more about Diane Dimond and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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