When a Hometown Boy Became a Hero

I finally have a few minutes to myself; the kids have been fed and are playing in the backyard with their friends enjoying the final days of summer. I think to myself that I’ll catch my breath, enjoy a quiet house while it lasts, check my email, maybe see who else has taken the Ice Bucket Challenge on Facebook. 

As I scroll down, my eyes catch an image of a familiar face. Instantly my heart sinks; my eyes slowly close in disbelief, willing them to see something different when they open again. But when they do, I see that it is indeed true. It’s Jim in that picture. The only word that I see is “beheaded.” 

The grief I feel is immediate, for I know Jim, I know his family. I went to Nursery school (they didn’t call it preschool back then) with Jim’s brother Michael. We were in nearly every class together until we graduated from high school. Though I haven’t seen much of him since then, you never forget the kids you grew up with. Especially when you come from a small town as we did. Everyone knew everyone. Growing up, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire was a place out of a Norman Rockwell painting or a Frank Capra movie. I see it even more now that I don’t live there anymore.

The Foleys were one of those families that everyone in town looked up to. Mrs. Foley was as warm and wonderful back then as she might appear to be on TV to those who never met her. Dr. Foley used to play basketball with my Dad in an adult league and was my Mom’s physician. In a small town, it seems that all of our lives are intertwined in these little ways. We’re all connected and depend on one another.

I’m glad I never saw the video of Jim’s execution or clicked to see further images of it. I have to keep the image of his smiling face in my thoughts. It wasn’t until that horrible picture on the cover of The New York Post that I saw the look on Jimmy’s face. His resolve, his strength, his courage. I cannot imagine what was going through his mind at that moment. I cannot even pretend to know what his family must be going through. I know for me, my heart is heavier than I’ve ever experienced and I find myself hugging my own children harder and longer than usual, and they have no idea why.

The sadness and sorrow I feel has almost consumed me these past few days. I am overcome by the disturbing fact that such evil exists in our world. But it does. We have to recognize that this evil is multiplying and has been for some time. As Ronald Reagan once said, “If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.” 

The unpleasant facts we’re faced with are not new. The warning signs were there. Unfortunately, our very own president seems either unwilling to effectively deal with it, is disinterested, or quite simply is in way over his head. All three of those options are unacceptable. Get with the program, Mr. President. If Jim’s brutal murder isn’t enough of a wake-up call for Obama, I don’t know what it’ll take. As Dr. Foley said in the press conference he and Mrs. Foley gave – which incidentally was interrupted by the President (to keep to his tee-time I assume) – “How much more of this evil are we going to tolerate? When is enough enough?”

The foreign and domestic policies of this president should have Americans utterly outraged.  The situation in the Middle East has deliberately been allowed to deteriorate. There is no excuse for the rise of ISIS. What’s more, upon the verification of Jim’s beheading, there should’ve been a plan in motion to obliterate this group. I watch the nightly news with footage of ISIS wreaking total terror all over the region and wonder why they are not running for the hills in fear of American retribution. The truth is that Obama’s ineptness as a leader and total failure in policy has made this world a more dangerous place not just for Americans but for all of our world’s citizens.

Growing up, I remember learning about World War II for the first time and wondering how so many could stand idly by while so much evil and murder continued to happen right in front of their eyes. How could someone like Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain choose not to see—or be too weak to confront its wickedness? How many were culpable for choosing to look away?

James Wright Foley could not bear to look away. He knew the risk he was taking and, after being captured once before in Libya, had enough moral fortitude to take the risk again. He was willing to shine a light on the ruthlessness and inhumanity that still exists in this world, with the hope that if people saw the truth they’d be compelled to do something. Freedom is not something that is inherently American… it is inherently human. It is because of Jimmy that I still believe in the goodness of people. A boy from my very own hometown grew up to become my hero. May he finally find peace.

Stacy Durgan Marschner, who is originally from Wolfeboro, NH, now resides in Virginia with her family.


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