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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Chessplayer James Vernon, A Real Hero

James Vernon, Hero Chessplayer
     We live in a society where we are encompassed with ersatz heroes...people in politics, sports and Hollywood. A parade of Hollywood stars are presented to us as people to be respected and admired, but as actor John Cusack confessed, “Hollywood is a whorehouse and people go mad.” Angus T. Jones, formerly the child actor on the TV show Two And A Half Men, called the show filth that nobody should be watching, but he could have been speaking of dozens of them. 
     What defines a hero? There a lot of definitions, but a real hero is someone who demonstrates behaviors and decisions that are ethically and emotionally worthy of our awe. A real hero is someone who can be looked up to for their actions and courage. Back in 2015, a 75-year-old Vietnam War-era U.S. Army veteran and retiree named James Vernon did just that. 
     Vernon, USCF rating 1516, was teaching chess to a group of 16 children and their mothers at the Morton Public Library in Morton, a small town in central Illinois when 19-year-old Dustin Brown entered the room brandishing two knives and shouting, “I’m going to kill some people.” Court documents claimed that Brown wanted to kill the children before he killed himself. 
     For a few seconds Vernon didn’t believe what was happening, but then realized he had to do something and immediately got in between the attacker and the children, telling the frightened children and mothers that it was time to leave. 
     The children, aged 7 to 14, remained frozen in their seats as Vernon approached the attacker and calmly began asking him questions. Brown just stood there making shallow cuts in his own left arm as he told Vernon his whole life sucked. 
     Vernon asked Brown to let the children leave and then they could talk about Brown’s problems. At that point one of the mothers hurried the children out. As the children were leaving, Brown lunged at Vernon who lifted his hand to block the attack and as a result suffered a deep stab in his left palm that severed two arteries which began spurting blood all over the place. 
     In spite of his wound, Vernon fought back, subdued Brown and pinned him to one of the conference tables. Not bad for a 75-year-old with bad knees, a bad shoulder and high blood pressure. Vernon credited basic Army training that he had received over 50 years earlier for knowing what to do in a knife fight. 
     Vernon's actions remind me of what author Adam Chan wrote in his book Climbing Mountains and Eating Punches when he said his view was the really dangerous guys are the quietest ones who are very good at avoiding trouble. Like he also said, you never know who you are messing with.  

     Brown was arrested and charged with attempted murder, armed violence, and aggravated battery. Vernon underwent two hours of surgery on his hand. 
     It took until this year for Vernon to be awarded the Carnegie Medal for his heroic action that day. The 113-year-old Carnegie Commission recognizes civilian heroism in the U.S. and Canada. About 20-percent of those awards are made posthumously. 
     And what happened to Dustin Brown? As a teenager Brown suffered from fixations on aviation, child pornography and eventually mass murder that were caused by autism. 
     Brown, whose intellectual capacity was less than his age of 19, claimed to have been sexually abused as a child which may have contributed to his actions, but he understood his actions in the library were criminal. 
     Brown went to the library with two large knives in his book bag with the intent to kill people and when he saw the children he selected them as his target. His plans stemmed from a fixation over mass killings he’d developed while watching video games.
     He told police the children sparked a desire for revenge after he was charged eight months earlier with possessing more than 200 computer-downloaded videos and pictures of preteen girls engaging in sexual acts. He was free on bond when he made the attack in the library.  
     Brown’s parents said they had no idea until after Brown’s arrest on the porn charges that he was sexually abused for a half-dozen years by his older brother who is imprisoned on an unrelated sex-related charge. The parents had adopted both boys as young children. 
     Brown pleaded guilty (but mentally ill) to possessing child porn, attempted murder and armed violence. The Assistant State’s Attorney sought a 50-year sentence while Brown’s attorney asked for the minimum 16-year term. In the end, Brown received a 32-year prison sentence. Time served since the library assault and good behavior could reduce his prison term to 22 years. He’ll receive mental health therapy during his prison time. 
     James Vernon is a real hero, not the fake kind you see on television.

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