Illuminating The Patriots: When It Takes More Courage to Lose

The summer heat of the Sicilian sun beat down on the smoldering German defenses.  The battle had long moved past them, and the American medics and German grave registrants now moved across the battlefield, attending to their grizzly work.  Lying on his back, a young corporal, one of the dozens of dying Germans strewn across the field, saw them from far off, and prayed they would find him quickly.  His head sank to the ground as his mind slipped into the subconscious thoughts of a dying man.  He saw his wife and young son.  He saw his friends and comrades of the lost Sicilian campaign.  And he, like so many others living in the nightmarish Europe of 1943, escaped to the happy days before the war, before the madman had fundamentally transformed the people under the ‘patriotic’ Nazi cause.  He remembered when people strove together for progress under a common cause of brotherhood, not division and superiority.  His thoughts drifted from the shattered Nazi glory on the Sicilian battlefield, back to that moment when he, along with the entire world, had witnessed the defiance of the Nazi Regime at the Olympic Games which he had the privilege of attending in 1936.

The white Olympic flag struck a sharp contrast against the crimson banners of the Nazi Party in the Berlin stadium.  Every seat was filled, and every eye turned to the field for the ultimate contest of international athletic superiority: track and field.  The leaders of the Nazi Party, watching from their box, were counting on this competition of raw strength and determination to prove to the world their status as a ‘superior race’ of Aryans.  That prospect had been initially thwarted by the excellent performance of the American track team, but Germany was again gaining in the medal count.

After the first event of the day, the long jump, had been announced, the crowd erupted as Germany’s star athlete entered the arena.  At six feet tall, the blue-eyed, blond-haired Luz Long was the poster child of the Aryan race.  As the crowd sat, the American team entered, headed by Jesse Owens, the African American athlete whose earlier victory in the 100m sprint had symbolized everything the Nazi Party despised.

Luz approached the starting line, knelt into position, and took off.  He graced the jump and landed well within the qualifications for finishing.  Hitlers eyes gleamed.  Owens was next, and everyone held their breath to witness the clash of two cultures.  Luz watched his opponent carefully.  Owens took a deep breath and tensed his muscles before starting his dash.  Flying down the track, he jumped too late, and was disqualified.  Owens couldn’t understand it.  He was sure he had jumped in time.  The international judges confirmed the error.  Luz approached the line for his second jump, tall and proud, nodding to Owens as they passed.  Luz positioned himself, at the line, and suddenly started down the track sprinting with all his might.  The jump.  The flight.  The landing.  Luz stood up to the rapturous applause as the stadium and the world acknowledged his new world record.  Hitler gloated.  Jesse Owens refocused his mind.  He was running out of chances.  He had come too far to fail now.  He held his breath as the crowd quieted.  He ran as powerfully as ever, but once more, it was too late.  His second jump was disqualified.  He buried his head in his hands as Hitler looked on.  Luz took the stance for the final jump, and the crowd cheered as he cleared the mark one again.  Jesse, still unnerved, and forlorn, walked towards his mark.  He closed is eyes and focused his mind.  All he could see was his form missing the jump for a third time.  He opened his eyes.  Luz was standing in front of him.

“I have noticed your late jumps”, Luz said.  “No kidding”, Owens replied, breaking his concentration and looking up at the German athlete.  Expecting to find contempt or pity in the eyes of the new record holder, Jesse saw instead admiration.  “Coming here” Luz continued, “required more courage than any athletic victory.”  Luz whispered, “even if you lose, you have won a great victory in defying those who despise you.”  Owens was just about to remind Luz that losing to these people would only serve to confirm their prejudice, when Luz interrupted.  “But you won’t be losing today.  Do you see the chair next to the jumping line?”  Owens gazed down the track as the attendants finished sweeping it clear.  “I have been watching you, and if you want to win, you must do something.  You must jump where I tell you.  I will be sitting in that chair, and will serve as your marker.  Jump there.”  Jesse looked at him with scrutiny.  “Trust me for your sake.  For my sake.  For the world’s sake.”  Owens nodded, smiled, bent down, and positioned himself for his last chance.  He focused his eyes on Luz as he sped down the length of the track.  Luz was watching him from 20 strides away.  Then 10.  Then 5.  Jesse’s feet left the ground at Luz’s mark, and his perfect form arched across the sand pit and landed past Luz’s record.  Jesse stood to a thunderous applause.  The first to congratulate him was Luz, wearing a smile that lit his whole face.  Their eyes saw no skin color, no ideological differences, just two athletes, two men uniting under courage greater than themselves.  Owens embraced his new friend, and whispered into his ear.  “What you have done has taken equal courage”.  Hitler looked on, grim.

The Corporal was gently recalled to the dusty fields of Sicily, as the pain of his wound lessened and he began to lose consciousness.  He looked up as the Swastika fell from the flag pole.  “It is good” he murmured.  He looked next towards the American medics, making their way towards him.  He knew it was too late.  It was alright.  He was at peace.  He had lived his life at peace.  He relaxed… Darkness.  The medics took a pulse and moved on.  Taking the dog tags from the young Corporal’s neck, the German grave register recorded in his July 14th death ledger the name of Carl “Luz” Long.


Photo credit: Wikimedia

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