Robert Heinlein had a story that he told a few times in print, in both fiction and nonfiction.
- A man and woman were walking through a park when the woman got her foot caught in a railway switch. The husband could not work her foot free, so another man, usually described as a hobo or a tramp but in any case a complete stranger, stopped to help. The train got closer; the woman remained stuck; the men continued their attempts… until all three were hit and killed. Heinlein’s point was that the actions of the tramp represent the highest form of heroism: he owed the woman nothing and absolutely no one would have faulted him for jumping clear, but he stayed in place until and beyond the final moment, trying to save a complete stranger’s life with utter disregard for his own.
*Can anyone locate a source for this story, in reality or fiction? Heinlein told it as something that happened (or that he heard) as a boy, so it would have happened around 1900-1915, maybe. He set it in Swope Park in at least one telling, so it possibly happened in KC. However… a very good researcher has gone through the archives of the KC paper from 1880 to 1940 without success. It would be a couple of feathers in a Doper cap to locate the source, if it exists and if Heinlein weren’t simply making the story up or greatly rewriting some other real event.