His Actions Spoke Louder than Words

by Sally M. Via
Countryside, Illinois, USA

It was around 1955 when we were living in rural Hewett, West Virginia, that my oldest brother, Jimmy Nichols, became my hero. Jimmy was 11 or 12 years old and was riding his bicycle, passing by the local beer joint in Hewett, when he heard a loud thundering noise and glanced around to discover an unoccupied coal truck, partially loaded with coal, barreling down a small hill directly toward the beer joint full of men. Some were locals, some were coal miners who had stopped on their way home from a hard day at the mines to grab a cold beer.

His Actions Spoke Louder Than WordsWithout hesitation, Jimmy peddled his bike faster than the rolling coal truck, grabbed the handle, opened the door, jumped inside the truck, applied the brakes and the emergency brakes, and brought the truck to a halt, thereby saving many lives. He then simply got out of the truck, found a few big rocks, rolled and pushed them under the truck wheels for extra safety, and without saying a word to anyone, he quietly rode away on his bike.

He came home and didn’t mention anything about it to any of us. I and my family would have never known about the incident, except for one lady living near the beer joint who also had heard the sound of the truck barreling down the hill, and looked out her window just in time to see my brother Jimmy take action. Learning from other people in bits and pieces of stories from here and there, I began to see that being a hero was a common occurrence for my brother. Yet he was never given a medal, never once said, “Guess what I just did?” He wasn’t even in the newspapers until he died of a car accident at age 27.

I am sure there were many other heroic acts that nobody saw nor knew about except Jimmy himself. He will be my hero for all of my life because he taught me that a hero does not need notice, applause nor public acclaim in order to feel good about oneself on the inside. He taught me that we all should do whatever is needed to be done in an instant, without hesitation, and without expecting a pat on the back, a thank you, nor the gratefulness nor admiration and praise of others. My brother Jimmy is the only REAL hero that I ever expect to meet.

Originally published as HeroicStories #43 on Aug 10, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.

6 thoughts on “His Actions Spoke Louder than Words”

  1. In Jewish tradition and custom there is a clear hierarchy of the value of a “mitzvah” or good deed.

    First comes the deed done openly and acknowledged by the doer who may even claim credit for it. This is exceeded by:

    The deed done openly but without the doer claiming any acknowledgement or credit. This is exceeded by:

    The deed done openly but so that the doer is not identified. This is exceeded by:

    The deed done covertly but is known by those who are so aided. This is exceeded by:

    The deed which is done so that neither the beneficiaries nor the actors are known.

    Finally, and with the highest ranking, is the deed which is done without any indication that it was done at all.

    A series of the last are said to be necessary for a person to be classed as a “tzaddik” or truly Just person.

    Outside of our tradition such people are sometimes called Saints.

    Jewish tradition also holds that at any time there are 36 Tzaddikim in the world, who ensure the continuity of fair and just society.

  2. Jimmy lived his life as a humble man even in his youth. Matthew 6:4English Standard Version (ESV)

    4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. He received a just reward I am sure.

  3. Howdy,

    I have observed a trend in many, well most of the Heroic Stories…while the writer will always tell a little bit about someone else…the story is usually more about the writer than the hero. Patting themselves on their own back and seeking applause from others.

    I love this story, though, because it is completely different. First of all, the hero, is a true hero…never bragging about themselves or their accomplishments. I wish more people would learn from him.

    But I am also impressed that the writer did not add in an additional paragraph or two to talk about themselves, too.

    Excellent story!

    Thank you!

  4. A true hero. As Jim describes above, a true gift is one given in secret so that the recipient never knows and the giver is never acknowledged. Beautiful story – Sally does her brother’s memory justice. I’m sorry for her loss of one so dear so young. And I’m sorry for the world’s loss of someone so generous of heart and spirit.

  5. How sad to lose someone so young. In his short time here, he made quite an impact and set an example for others as well. Great story, thank you so much for sharing the inspirational story of your brother.


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