The nation said goodbye to a number of outstanding public servants this week.

One was a distinguished U.S. senator and the others were professional teachers in the Connecticut elementary school visited by evil.

All were American heroes.

This morning, funeral services were held for Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye who passed away from respiratory complication Monday at the age of 88. Inouye was at the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 as a medical volunteer but when the U.S. Army dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans, he volunteered to be part of the Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team which became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.

While serving in Italy late in the war, Lt. Inouye skillfully directed an attack on a key ridge. After his platoon was caught in a machine gun crossfire, Inouye charged and destroyed two of the machine gun nests and, despite being wounded, continued to engage the enemy at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken.

Through his gallant action and leadership, Inouye's platoon was instrumental in capturing the ridge. In 2000, President Clinton presented Inouye with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.

Also performing beyond the call were the heroic adults who sacrificed their own lives for the children under their care during the murderous rampage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown a week ago. When gunman Adam Lanza went on his shooting spree, a number of staff members, including Victoria Soto, did not hesitate in shielding her students. According to reports, after hearing the shots, Soto hid her kids in closets and when the gunman came into her room, she told him the class was in gym. She was then gunned down.

"She put herself between the gunman and the children and that's when she was tragically shot and killed," her cousin Jim Wiltsie said.

Soto's passion for teaching was obvious. One of her friends wrote online that when he talked with Soto just days before the tragic attack, she said that "she loved her 16 angels and never wanted to let them go."

At just 5-foot-2, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, the school principal, proved to be a giant among mankind when she charged at the gunman after first hearing gunshots ring out. A mother to two daughters, and a stepmother to three, she was known as the rock of the Sandy Hook school. Before rushing to confront the gunman, she saved countless lives by immediately turning on the PA system after hearing the sound of gunfire.

Another teacher killed in the school massacre was 30-year-old Lauren Rousseau, who received a full-time teaching position in the fall semester after working there for several years as a substitute teacher. Her father said she loved the job and " was like a kid in many ways which he said was why she liked working with kids so much.

Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist, who also died in the hail of gunfire, worked at Sandy Hook for 18 years and was just a year from retirement.

Two teachers Kaitlin Roig and Maryrose Kristopik, both survived uninjured during massacre. Ms Kristopik huddled in a storage room with 15 children while outside the gunman was heard screaming: 'Let me in!'

When we see heroism like this, it leaves many of us wondering how we would react when faced with a life-and-death situation. The American essayist, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.

Truly, the heroic Americans that we lost this week possessed that special quality.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]