Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
(CNN) -- Great evil often brings out the best in good men, men like Todd Beamer on Flight 93, Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy in Afghanistan and now the Aurora three -- the three young men, each in different parts of theater nine, who gave their lives to protect their girlfriends.
Twenty-five-year-old Jon Blunk was sitting next to his girlfriend, Jansen Young, at the midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" when the gunman (who shall remain nameless) opened fire in the dark theater. Blunk instinctively pushed his girlfriend to the ground and threw his body on top of hers. Blunk, a security guard, served five years in the Navy and was in the process of re-enlisting in hopes of becoming a Navy SEAL, family and friends said. He was killed in the gunfire; his girlfriend survived.
Twenty-four-year-old Alex Teves dived on top of his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren, when the gunfire erupted. Covering her body, he took the bullets so they did not harm her. She survived the massacre; he did not.
Matt McQuinn, 27 years old, threw his body in front of his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, as the shooting continued. Yowler survived with a gunshot wound to the knee; McQuinn's body absorbed the fatal shots.
These men were three of the 12 innocent people killed early that morning. Their incredible sacrifice leaves us asking: Why? Why would a young man with his entire life ahead of him risk everything for a woman he has no legal, financial or marital obligations to?
As Hanna Rosin so eloquently pointed out in a recent article, calling it chivalry would be a tremendous understatement. By all appearances, these men believed that a man has a responsibility to protect a woman, even to the point of death. They believed that there are things in life worth dying for and the innocent woman sitting next to them was one.
They believed, to put it simply, in a code of honor. They put the lives of the women before their own, an old fashioned notion to be sure, but certainly an honorable one (if you have any doubt, ask the survivors). Their instincts were to protect, not run away.
From all accounts, these young men were average, working men in their 20s. (We know a little about Jon Blunk, but not much, and we know even less about the others.) Like all men, they had their own struggles. After his death we learned that Blunk had an ex-wife and two children living in Nevada. He was scheduled to visit them to resolve marital issues. This isn't to take anything away from Blunk or the other two heroes, but to illustrate that, in spite of shortcomings, men can still recognize what it means to be a good man and act like one.
This is especially important given the state of many men today. Record numbers of men aren't working or even looking for work. Record numbers aren't marrying or even acting as fathers to their children. These men need heroes to imitate whom they can relate to in everyday life, not just make-believe superheroes who catch their imagination for an hour or two. They need heroes like the Aurora three.
While much of the media obsesses over the psychology and motivations of this deranged killer, we should hold the Aurora three high. It is only by telling their story that this code of honor will survive for future generations of men. "The world is forwarded by having its attention fixed on the best things," Matthew Arnold wrote.
In an age when traditional manhood has been increasingly relegated to fiction -- capes, masks and green screens -- these three men stand as real-life heroes. Their actions remind us that good triumphs over evil, not just in movies, but also in reality.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Bennett.