Hometown heroes: A special look at those who rose to the challenge

The Kansas City Star

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."

We're hoping for a better outcome with this special section.

We tried to avoid the usual suspects, those well known for feats of valor and selflessness. Names like John Testrake, Joe Delaney and Sister Berta Sailer. We also learned that police and firefighters don't jump at the hero label.

But we asked. Instead of one of his own, Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi recommended a good Samaritan who ran into a burning restaurant and carried out two injured victims. A Kansas City police historian suggested we feature a woman who a century ago worked as a playground monitor and fought off enough hooligans to become the city's first woman police officer.

And something else — aside from the world of sports, and because of modesty and humility — heroes tend to be dead.

Only one of ours is still with us. And he has a piece of paper from the Carnegie Hero Fund that makes him a documented hero. After he did what he did, he needed a stiff drink.

We settled on three soldiers, the good Samaritan, a civil rights activist, the playground monitor, a newspaper editor, a chivalrous knight and two guys — one a "river rat" — who died trying to save a small town during a flood.

Half of our heroes died in acts that got them here, including a Missouri farm boy who kissed his girl goodbye and went off to war.

Aside from a couple, the names were new. And if there is a common denominator among them, it is that they would probably be reluctant to call themselves heroes. They were just there and wanted to help.

As somebody once said, heroes are those who are brave just a little longer than anybody else.

These stories will be published each day from October 10 to 18. So, check back here throughout the week. We'll keep adding these heroic stories to this page until the last day of the series.

Alone in a burning tank in WWII, Herbert Hoover Burr kept fighting

On March 19, 1945, just outside the German village of Dörrmoschel, an American tank, already ablaze from a rocket strike, rounded a corner and and surprised an enemy anti-tank gun crew in the road. Click to keep reading.

Esther Brown pushed to desegregate schools years before 1954 ruling

Esther Brown is not the namesake of Brown v. Board of Education. She led a legal fight to force the small South Park district in Johnson County to allow black students to attend a new school. Click to keep reading.

Passer-by Paul Mongiello saved victims in 2013 JJ's restaurant inferno

Paul Mongiello, an insurance executive, just happened to be in front of JJ's when a natural gas explosion ripped through the trendy Plaza area restaurant. Rather than run away, he ran inside — twice — and each time carried an injured victim to safety. Click to keep reading.

Wayne Miner, son of slaves, 'died a hero' on the last day of World War I

A machine gun outpost needed ammo, and somebody had to take it to them. Wayne Miner of Kansas City volunteered when no one else would. He may have been the last American to die in World War I. Click to keep reading.

Elenore Canny fought for children, became Kansas City's first female 'patrolman'

In 1908, Elenore Canny went to one of Kansas City's roughest and poorest neighborhoods to serve as monitor at the city's first play park. She ran off so many lurking men, she became the city's first woman police officer. Click to keep reading.

Craig Sheppard and Bill Brubaker battled the Elwood flood, but paid with their lives

In the summer of 2011, when record rains and snowmelt turned the Missouri River into a monster, Craig Sheppard and Bill Brubaker gave all they had to save the little town of Elwood, Kan. Click to keep reading.

Nearly 50 years later, Primitivo Garcia is still a hero for the ages

On a night nearly a half-century ago, Primitivo Garcia, a Mexican immigrant, ran to defend his teacher as she was being mugged by a group of teens outside Westport High School. Click to keep reading.

Lucile Bluford fought for decades to help African-American community in Kansas City

Lucile Bluford, longtime editor of The Kansas City Call, used a powerful voice to fight for social justice and equal opportunity. In the 1930s, she challenged segregation at the University of Missouri. Click to keep reading.

Missouri's Joe Specker died at his gun, received posthumous Medal of Honor in WWII

Joe Specker didn't have to climb that mountain, but he did because he "wouldn't be outdone by anyone." After saving lives that night in Italy, his buddies found him dead at his gun. Click to keep reading.