The Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund Website

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John McGee:
2014 Winner
FDNY Ladder 4

John McGee

Winning Essay

Over the course of generations, the world has been graced with countless numbers of men and women who have put the greater good before their own desires. These people, often ordinary, average men and woman just like you and I, have broken away from the norm and shown themselves to be exceptional through their bravery, courage, and generosity to those around them. Without these men and woman, we as a city, as a nation, and as a people would not be standing here today. Too often they go un-thanked, un-noticed, and taken for granted, yet despite such neglect, they continue to conduct themselves in such a way that there is only one word fitting enough to describe them: heroes. However, in each generation, there are a select number of heroes born with the potential for greatness pulsing through their veins. These are the men and woman whose names will dot the pages of history books and will be engraved into monuments, statues, and plaques. Songs will be sung of their skill, knowledge, and excellence, glorifying them into immortality. Yet, those who achieve this immortality do not always do so by following the path of heroism. Some may simply stray from the path; others, in fact, falsely make themselves out to be heroes in order to gain such a status. Whatever the means, those who attain such grandeur that their name and works are known far and wide, crossing the span of generations, are known as legends.

While commonly mistaken, hero and legend are not interchangeable words. Legends may certainly be heroes, but heroes may not necessarily be legends. An example of this would be the legendary heroes of ancient Greek mythology, such as Heracles and Perseus, who’s famed defeats of horrid monsters are still shared, compared to the service men and women, emergency personnel, and healthcare professionals of today. While they may not be remembered for all eternity, the work these men and woman do is daring, noble, virtuous, and humane, making each and every one of them heroes worthy of being celebrated as legends. Sadly, in my opinion, their deeds are far too often overlooked, and the gratitude and appreciation they deserve, but do not seek, is withheld from them. That being said, every so often, such heroes’ works are so honorable that they receive the proper attention they are worthy of, promoting said hero to the status of legend. These legends are the best kind of legends, as they inspire people to better themselves and those around them by following the path of heroism.

One such legend that has impacted people in this way is Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy of the United States Navy. Born and raised in Suffolk County, Long Island, Michael Murphy was lovingly referred to as “The Protector” during his time at Patchogue-Medford High School as he would go out of his way to help the homeless and those with special needs. After graduating high school, Murphy went on to attend Pennsylvania State University, where in 1998 he obtained dual degrees in political science and psychology. After graduating, Murphy denied acceptances into several law schools and instead went on to begin SEAL training at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. By 2001 he had completed his training and soon began working in different areas such as Jordan, Qatar, and Djibouti before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2005.

The reason I choose to write about Lt. Murphy is because of his display of true heroism and sacrifice during Operation Red Wings that make him the legend he is today. Operation Red Wings was a counter-insurgency mission that took place in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan in which Murphy and three other Navy SEALs, Danny Dietz, Matthew Axelson, and Marcus Luttrell, were tasked with capturing or killing a Taliban leader by the name of Ahmad Shah. The mission, however, took a turn for the worse when after being dropped off in the mountains east of Asadabad, the SEALs encountered a group of goat herders. Perceiving no threat, the SEALs let the herders go, but shortly after doing so, the group found themselves surrounded and under attack by Taliban forces which were possibly tipped off by hostile locals or the goat herders themselves. As leader of the four-man team, it was Murphy’s responsibility to protect his men, and in doing so he gave the ultimate sacrifice of his own life. On June 28th, 2005, Murphy knowingly gave up a position of cover and entered the enemy line of fire in order to obtain a clear signal to provide his unit’s location and request support. After doing so, he returned to his position of cover and continued to fight until he succumbed to his wounds. For this reason, I believe Michael Murphy is a true example of not only of a hero, but also a legend. Knowing he would sustain fatal wounds, he willingly sacrificed himself in order to protect those under his leadership, and for this, he was posthumously awarded the military’s highest distinction, the Medal of Honor. Besides enabling his fellow soldier Marcus Luttrell to escape with his life, Murphy’s sacrifice raised the bar on what it means to be a soldier in the United States Military, and overall, what it means to be an American.  He is a pure illustration of courage, determination, and selflessness, and it is these characteristics that I believe make him to be a legend whose legacy will persist through the ages.

Unfortunately, not all legends are of the same righteous caliber as Lieutenant Michael Murphy. Whether we like to accept it or not, I maintain that legends do not always make the world a better place as legends do not have to be heroes. In fact, there are many different types of legends. Legends of the arts and sciences, such as Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, have provided the basis for all artistic and scientific work after them, while religious legends, such as Jesus Christ, Abraham, Muhammad, and Buddha have had major historical impacts in addition to the spiritual impacts they have had on people for generations. Military legends such as Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and Hannibal of Carthage have proven themselves so great in battle that for years to come, historians will be debating who hypothetically would win in a fight. While these figures are all legends viewed with extreme historical importance, there are people who have had equal if not greater historical impact, whose legends have been associated with dark, despair-filled periods of history. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Attila the Hun, and Genghis Kahn will all be remembered for a long time to come, but even though there legends are marked with war crimes, atrocities, and bloodshed, we as a people can still learn from them. In my examination of what it means to be a legend, I have come to understand that people are remembered either for their greatness or for how utterly horrible they were. We can all strive to be the da Vincis, Mozarts, and Murphys of the world through our actions, compassion, and benevolence, working to leave the world a better place then it was when we entered it. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Work to be the legends that too are heroes, not the dirty drops in the vast ocean.


We would like to wish John McGee the best of luck moving on to Stony Brook University. Congratulations!

My name is John McGee, and I am currently a senior in my final month at Regis High School. I am 17 years old, and live in Flushing, Queens along with the rest of my family. My younger brother, James, is currently a sophomore at Saint Francis Prep, and my mother is a graphic designer at Neuberger Berman. My father is a twenty- year veteran with the FDNY, and for the past seven years has been the Captain of Ladder 4 in Midtown, Manhattan. As a result of this, I began visiting the city at an early age, and as it has on so many people, New York left a major impression on me. Going to school in Manhattan was a big factor in deciding to attend Regis, and over the past four years, my school has helped to nurture and cultivate my continued fascination with New York City. Earlier this year, I took a course entitled ‘History of New York’. Learning about the history of the neighborhoods, departments, infrastructure, and transportation I am exposed to on a daily basis absolutely fascinated me, so much so that I am now currently in another course on the city: an English class on literature focused on New York City. The courses I have taken this year on New York City have intrigued me so much that I am considering pursuing the subject further as I continue on the path of my academic career.

However, my foremost passion is learning about the natural world, specifically animals. Ever since I was toddler, I’ve been absolutely mesmerized by the animal world. By age four I knew the Bronx Zoo like the back of my hand, and as I teenager I began volunteering at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island. It was here that I learned how it could be possible for me to combine my two primary academic interests into a unified career aspiration. As part of my training, I learned an extensive amount about the New York seascape, and how it can peacefully coexist with the people and this city. Thus, as I continue my academic career this fall at Stony Brook University, I will be pursuing a degree in Marine Vertebrate Biology, with the eventual hope that one day I can foster coexistence between the natural New York and the man-made New York, further contributing to the history of the city that I love.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund and the Santora Family for presenting me with this generous gift that will aid me in the pursuit of my goal. As a teacher and a firefighter, Christopher was a part of this great city’s history. In his memory, his family and the scholarship fund beautifully commemorate him by continuing to aid others in becoming a part of that same history. I consider it a great honor to be a recipient of this award.

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