12:45 AM EDT 04/18/2014


Real Heroes

Credit: Matthew Mahon
A New Home for an Injured War Hero

Operation Finally Home Gives War Hero Andrew Litz a Place to Heal

Originally posted 11/01/2013 10:15AM

There are days when former Marine Sergeant Andrew Litz can't bear the sounds of his two young children playing in their two-bedroom apartment in suburban Dallas, when his wife, Heather, reminds them that Daddy's head hurts.

But on this October afternoon, the sturdy, intense former soldier is imagining a new life: one of calm connection with his family.

Standing in the yard of the brand-new home in Gunter, Texas, that will soon be theirs, he smiles. "This," he says quietly, "is a place where I can heal."

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Credit: Gregg Segal
Heroes Among Us: Bakery Gives Those in Need a Helping Hand – and a Job

Heroes Among Us

Andrew Stoloff Gives Recovering Addicts and Ex-Convicts Jobs At His Second Chance Bakery

Originally posted 10/31/2013 12:25PM

On paper, Andrew Stoloff knew it made no sense to buy Rubicon Bakery in Richmond, Calif.

But the former Wall Street analyst's decision to take over the failing business in 2009 and save the jobs of its 14 part-time employees – most of whom were recovering drug addicts or ex-convicts – had little to do with dollars or cents.

"I fell in love with its mission: to give people a second chance," says Stoloff, 53.

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Credit: David Yellen
New Jersey Firefighter Builds Playgrounds Honoring Newtown Shooting Victims

Heroes Among Us

Bill Lavin Builds Playgrounds in Areas Ravaged by Hurricane Sandy

Originally posted 10/24/2013 12:15PM

Firefighter Bill Lavin just wanted to help.

Last December, his New Jersey community was still reeling from Hurricane Sandy's effects when Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 people, 20 of them children.

"I was thinking that we could combine these tragedies to bring some time of hope and recovery," says Lavin, 55, of Woodbridge, N.J.

So he formed The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play, whose goal it is to create 26 playgrounds, most in storm-ravaged areas, each dedicated to one of the 26 victims from the Sandy Hook shootings.

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Credit: AP
Teacher Victim Called a Hero After Nevada School Shooting

Teacher Victim Called a Hero After Intervening During Nevada School Shooting

Originally posted 10/22/2013 05:00PM

Beloved teacher Michael Landsberry, a former Marine, died a hero at Sparks Middle School in Nevada on Monday in another tragic campus shooting.

The 45-year-old was killed while trying to talk to the unidentified 12-year-old gunman (who later killed himself).

"He was telling him to stop and put the gun down," student Jose Cazares told Today on Tuesday. "Then the kid, he yelled out, 'No!' Like, he was yelling at him, and he shot him. [The teacher] was calm, he was holding out his hand like, 'Put the gun in my hand.' "

Students, parents and fellow teachers are calling Landsberry's actions heroic. Tom Robinson, deputy chief with the Reno Police Department, also praised him, saying, "In my estimation, he is a hero. We do know he was trying to intervene."

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Credit: Kim Berry
Heroes Among Us: Wounded Veterans Teach Young Amputees About Softball and Courage

Heroes Among Us

Wounded Veterans Teach Young Amputees About Softball and Courage

Originally posted 10/17/2013 12:30PM

When wounded veterans get together on the baseball field with kids who are living with amputations, they don't just learn about fielding and hitting – they also learn about courage in life.

A few weeks ago, 12-year-old Nicholas Knotts was playing softball at his junior high in Oxford, Mich., when he heard one of the kids in the outfield snicker, "Easy out," just as he stepped up to bat. Born without a fibula, Knotts's left foot was amputated when he was 10 months old, and as he stood there waiting for the pitch, he watched as the opposing team members moved in close, confident that the seventh grader with the prosthetic foot couldn't hit.

"I popped it over all their heads for a single," laughs Knotts. "That felt really good."

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Credit: Lacy Voight
Heroes Among Us: Missouri Woman Helps Orphans, At-Risk Kids

Heroes Among Us

Rebecca Welsh Helps Orphans and At-Risk Kids Worldwide

Originally posted 10/10/2013 11:30AM

Rebecca Welsh was volunteering in orphanages in Honduras in 2002 when she had an eye-opening encounter with a child living on the streets.

"A 6-year-old little girl stopped me and begged me for water," she says. "She traveled in a pack of about 10 children and was the youngest in the group."

She soon found out the children, who couldn't get shelter in the city's overflowing orphanages, slept on cardboard boxes at night and dug through trash to find their next meal.

"I just couldn't believe that was going on and I'd never even heard of it," she says.

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Credit: Winni Wintermeyer
Heroes Among Us: California Highway Patrol Officer Stops Suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge

Heroes Among Us

Sgt. Kevin Briggs Stops Suicides on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

Originally posted 10/03/2013 09:40AM

More than twice a month, on average, those who've lost all hope come to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, climb over the railing and, tragically, plunge 220 feet into the Pacific Ocean to end their pain.

That number would be higher, if not for California Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Briggs, nicknamed the "Guardian of the Golden Gate." Since 1994, through sheer compassion and expert listening skills, Sgt. Briggs has helped convince more than 200 people on the precipice of death not to take their lives (so far, he's only lost one).

"People who come to jump don't necessarily want to die," explains Briggs, 50, who calmly introduces himself just a few feet away to the despondent person, often standing for hours in bone-chilling wind or heavy fog. 

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Boy, 10, Helps Disabled Brother Participate in a 5K Race

Brotherly Bond: A 10-Year-Old's Heartfelt Plea on Behalf of Disabled Sibling

Originally posted 09/28/2013 12:30PM

Tobias Bass wants to go the distance for his disabled brother.

And that distance covers 5,000 meters – for a 5K race.

The 10-year-old Tobias, of Edmond, Okla., wrote a heartfelt letter to a local TV station seeking its help so that he can give his brother a chance at a normal life.

In the handwritten note, Tobias explained that brother Titus, who is older by just a year, suffers from cerebral palsy. Tobias added that his sibling, who is deaf and underwent surgery to remove his stomach, cries whenever he sees other children playing outside.

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Credit: Courtesy of Renee Schecker
Heroes Among Us: These First-Graders Send Get Well Cards to Thousands of Strangers

Heroes Among Us

Barb Bratvold's First-Graders Send Get Well Cards to Thousands of Strangers

Originally posted 09/26/2013 12:00PM

One week after Donna O'Malley's 23-year-old son died last February, the retired Montevideo, Minn., nursing-home worker found a large manila envelope stuffed inside her mailbox.

Inside were 15 handmade sympathy cards from a group of first-graders O'Malley had never met.

"We're so sorry about your loss," read one card in a crooked scrawl, covered with pink and purple hearts.

"We care about you," read another, embellished with rainbows and a smiling sun.

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Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty
Heroes Among Us: Injured Detroit Firefighter Inspires Others to Fight Arson

Heroes Among Us

Paralyzed Firefighter Battles To Support Fellow First Responders

Originally posted 09/19/2013 05:00PM

In the split second before Detroit firefighter Brendan "Doogie" Milewski's life went to pieces, he remembers hearing a voice yell, "It's coming down."

Milewski dropped his hose and – weighted down by nearly 50-pounds worth of gear – sprinted away as fast as he could from the two-story blaze he'd been fighting to extinguish. But within a couple of steps, as bricks rained down around him, a 300-pound block of limestone plummeted from the crumbling exterior and flattened him.

"I knew I was in trouble," Milewski, 31, recalls. "I tried to do a pushup and slide my knees up to my chest to get myself out of there. But the only thing that would come off the ground were my shoulders."

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