As we are about to turn the page to a new year, we look back on 2017 to see what we leave behind, and I think many Americans would say good riddance to a year that saw an ever more divided America, sequential natural disasters, and major threats growing abroad. But amongst the black hole of negative news we trudge through on a daily basis, there are amazingly brilliant flashes of bright light—little stories that remind us how incredibly giving mankind can be and what incredible bravery hides deep inside average everyday people.
In an age where people flock to theaters multiple times a year to watch never ending fist fights without consequences among super heroes wearing bright costumes and capes, it's odd that more attention and fanfare isn't given to real life superheroes who do amazingly courageous acts without the help of supernatural abilities or a trust fund worth billion dollars that can be blown on high-end military gear. If people were to just look harder, they would realize that reality is more incredible than fiction, and it doesn't require "the force" to change the course of human lives in incredibly positive ways.
On Thursday night one of these incredible acts of heroism took place among the setting of the worst building fire New York has experienced in 25 years. The century-old Bronx apartment building was set ablaze by a three year old who was playing with the stove in an apartment on the first floor. The staircase in the five story, 29 unit complex acted like chimney and the fire spread rapidly through the building along with acrid and thick black smoke. By the time it was all over 12 people, including four children, were declared dead as a result of the ensuing inferno and seven firefighters and seven civilians were also injured, some severely.
But now it is coming to light that those casualty figures would have been far worse if it weren't for 28 year old Emmanuel Mensah. The newly minted U.S. Army soldier that had just completed basic training was home for Christmas and would likely be on his way to an assignment overseas in the near future. Emmanuel was staying in a friend's apartment located in the building at the time the fire was sparked and witnesses saw him rush back into the burning structure, bringing out trapped inhabitants each cycle. He made at least two of these trips before disappearing inside and not returning as the fire's intensity overtook much of the structure.
After the blaze finally dissipated and firefighters could make it further inside, the body of Emmanuel Mensah was found in apartment 15. His friends apartment was number 11. Emmanuel died of smoke inhalation.
Mensah's father, who lives next door to the doomed apartment building, stated the following to the New York Post:
“I understand when the fire was [going} he was trying to rescue... He had two or three people out... He just came for the holidays... He helped his roommate’s wife and children, they were trying to come out to the stairs and he stopped them... He told them to come out the window... Then he went in and tried to rescue people out.”
Emmanuel loved America deeply, although it was not his native country. He moved to the United States from Ghana half a decade ago. Soon after arriving in the U.S. he told his father he wanted to be a soldier in the Army, and even though his family tried to change his mind, his dream of serving his country never wavered. One can only imagine how incredible of a soldier Emmanuel, who had a knack for sharpshooting, would have become if he had not sacrificed his life for others. On a battlefield such a selfless act could have resulted in him being awarded an illustrious medal, and even a Medal of Honor.
In the end this story is a reminder that the real superheroes aren't found in Marvel movies, they walk among us, and thankfully, many of those heroes have chosen to put on a uniform for a career. Above all else, with all the selfishness, greed, violence, lies, and hate we see on a daily basis, it is so amazing to know that there are still people out there that can rise far above all of it when it really matters.
Private Emmanuel Mensah is a better man than I would ever hope to be, and he gives us all hope as we step into 2018.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com