Back in January 1929, Elinor Smith of
Freeport, L.I., flew out of Mitchel Field on Long Island
and stayed aloft for more than 13 hours to set a women's solo endurance record. She was just 17.
In 1934, her exploits earned her the honor of being pictured on a box of Wheaties — the "Breakfast of Champions."
A grass-roots campaign has been launched
to put the new champions of New York — firefighters and police officers
— on a Wheaties box as a tribute to their heroism Sept. 11. In 21st century fashion, this campaign isbeing waged largely
on the Internet, where an online petition (www.petitiononline.com), addressed to General Mills President Stephen Sanger, has gathered nearly 20,000 virtual signatures.
Among those signing the petition are many
New Yorkers, including active and retired police officers, firefighters
friends and relatives of the victims of Sept. 11. One man signed in honor of his cousin of "Engine 40, FDNY," who died
that tragic day. A member of the 2000 Olympic team signed and wrote, "I agree that these men and women are true
heroes, athletes or not."
Another man wrote, "As a former member of
the NYPD who was at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, I think that this would be
a terrific tribute to our heroes. Let's show their surviving kids that you don't have to hit, throw or dunk a ball to be a true
In this age of celluloid superheroes, America's
children have to look no further than the FDNY, NYPD and the
Port Authority Police Department and the courageous emergency medical technicians to find true heroes.
A "Breakfast of Heroes" cereal box would inspire more young people to consider a career in these important
professions and engender deeper respect and appreciation for public servants.
A spokesman for General Mills said that
the company rejected this idea because it might be seen as too "commercial."
I understand that concern, but I believe that if they produced it in coordination with the NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority
police, perhaps donating a portion of the proceeds to charities benefiting the families of victims, the result would be a
heartfelt tribute to genuine American heroes and a real contribution to the public interest.
General Mills has said more recently that
it is reconsidering its decision in light of the outpouring of public support
such a Wheaties box tribute. I added my own support for the petition's effort the old-fashioned way, by mailing a letter
to Sanger (General Mills Inc., 1 General Mills Blvd., Minneapolis, Minn. 55426).
I hope the "Breakfast of Champions" will
honor the great champions of the NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority police.
If they do, my bet is that the boxes will fly off the shelves and remain as keepsakes long after the call of parents to
"eat your Wheaties" has been heeded.
But regardless of the outcome of this grass-roots
drive, as one woman wrote on the online petition,
"my children consider them heroes already."
I'm sure Elinor Smith would agree.