Self-Sacrificing Heroism from the Titanic 1912
The many remarkable instances of heroism on the Titanic will influence mankind for centuries to come. "Women and children first!" is a motto for a monument for all time.
The weakest and most needy are protected and cared for by the strongest and wealthiest, making their action truly Godlike. The testimony of the survivors to the deeds of noble men will ever be like a moving picture of thrilling inspiration.
We shall always behold Major Archibald Butt, with his stately, soldierly form, guarding the way to the life-boats for the helpless women and children. Aware that the closing hour of his life was at hand, he did not tremble or shirk but stood grandly true.
Once, when he saw a crowd of men surge toward the boats, he cried out, "Stand back, you men! Women and children first !" Some were heard to exclaim as the boat rowed away from the ship, "Thank God for Archie Butt!"
As the Major place Miss Mary Young, of Washington, as the last woman in the last boat, he ran to get two blankets to put around her, tucking her in as if she were in an automobile.
Then he smilingly said, "Good-bye, Miss Young; will you kindly remember me to all the folks at home?" Now his work was done; like a grand hero, like a true soldier, like noble manhood, there he stood and there he died.
Martyrs at the stake never showed greater nobility of soul, for his was a voluntary death, that others might live. There, in the gloom, far away from dear ones, in the cold grip of the pitiless waters, his body sank, with the palace of the seas, but his spirit ascended to dwell with the heroes of all ages.
Out of the goblet of self-sacrifice and suffering, he drinks to-day the elixir of everlasting life.
John Jacob Astor stood heroically by Major Butt all through the struggle. When he begged his wife to let him put her in a lifeboat, she exclaimed, "No, no! I cannot go and leave you in the ship." "Oh, but you must, my dear," he replied, and then he almost dragged her to the boat. Kissing her goodbye, he said, "Don't worry; all will be well."
There the doomed husband stood, gazing at the boat that was carrying his wife away from him forever. After that scene was over, he was beheld everywhere helping fill the life-boats, and at last, standing up to his knees in water, he jumped overboard. Such heroism is a precious memory to friends and fellow citizens.
The public is accustomed in these days to speak evil of men of wealth, but the millionaires on the Titanic manifested courage and fidelity and strength of character equal to any other persons there.
Benjamin Guggenheim sent the last message to his wife in New York by one of the life-boat passengers, which contained these words: "If anything should happen to me, tell my wife I have done my best in doing my duty."
After helping fill all the boats, he removed his life-preserver and sweater and clothed himself in his best evening dress, saying to a friend, "Now we are prepared to go down like gentlemen."
Isidor Straus said to his wife, "Now, dear, I want you to do as I say and get into the next lifeboat." She replied, "I will get in this one if you will." He shook his head.
He had made up his mind to drown rather than take his place in a life boat when there were not enough boats to go around. With their arms around each other, there they stood, dying for others, as all their lives they had been living for others, all over the world.
Again some friends are seen begging Mrs. Straus to go, but she persisted, "I cannot leave my husband." Someone said, "There is room enough for both."
Mr. Straus exclaimed, "As long as there is one woman on this vessel I will not leave." "But you are an old man, Mr. Straus."
He grandly replied, "I am not too old to sacrifice myself for a woman." The officers now tried to force Mrs. Straus into the boat, but she clung desperately to her husband, and, recalling the words of Ruth, she cried out, "Entreat me not to leave thee. Where you go, I will go."
At last, Mr. Straus succeeded in getting his wife into a lifeboat, but she had only just been seated when she sprang up, jumped out of the boat and, catching her husband's arm, she exclaimed, "We have been together through a great many years; we are too old to separate now."
There, clasped together, the happy pair stood, true to each other, to God and to humanity, a picture for an artist. No doubt they thought of the words, "Love is stronger than death; many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it. Lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death, not divided."
The women were as heroic as the men when allowed to manifest their will. Miss Edith Evans, a young heroine, after being seated in a boat, saw Mrs. John Murray Brown, of Boston, approaching.
She gladly gave up her opportunity for life to Mrs. Brown, saying, as the officers shouted, "Room for only one more," "Take this woman; she has children waiting for her." Can such an act of heroism be excelled anywhere in human annals?
Many of the workingmen in the depths of the ship possessed equal grandeur of spirit. The captain had ordered every man on board to take his post of duty. Thirty-three firemen, besides the engines and dynamos, stood fast and faithful, keeping them running till the last.
When the water was rising about them one of the officers looked down and saw their lips moving in prayer. To such men, honor and faithfulness to duty was dearer than life.
As a steward was putting on a life-preserver for one of the passengers the friend said to the steward, "Where is yours?" He replied, "There are not enough to go around." "Others first," was his motto.
After the ship had sunk, Captain Smith was seen swimming toward a lifeboat, holding a child with one hand, high out of the water. Someone grasped the child as he reached the boat, while other hands were outstretched to take him aboard. As one of them seized him, he broke away, saying, "I will go down with the ship." Then he calmly unloosed his life-belt and sank, to be seen no more.
While many were slowly freezing to death in the icy air and in the water that leaked into the life-boats, hymns were sung and prayers were offered to inspire their courage and hope. Catholics and Protestants united in chanting the Lord's Prayer together. At last, in the gray of the morning, a shout was heard, "The Carpathia is coming!"
Caswell, Rev. Edwin Whittier, "Self-Sacrificing Heroism," in The New York Oberver, Vol. XC, No. 19, Whole No. 4644, Thursday, 9 May 1912, p. 585.
Image: A newspaper boy stands outside the Oceanic House on Cockspur Street new Trafalgar Square in London, the headquarters of the White Star Line.