Many of the people who have been identified as heroes of young people have later turned out to have personal failings which tarnish their reputations and standing as "heroes." Recently, baseball legend Pete Rose was imprisoned for tax evasion and censured in baseball for illegal gambling; President John Kennedy has been accused in the media of being a philanderer; District Mayor Marion Barry was sentenced to six months in prison on drug charges.

Have these incidents affected the way you look at heroes? Do you still have any heroes? Who are they and why?

To me, my mother is the best and number-one hero. According to my definition, a hero has to be a very special person. The characteristics of a hero are kindness, caring, love, friendliness, wisdom, unselfishness, skill and respect for others. My mother has shown all of these characteristics time after time.

My mother made many sacrifices for me. She had to work two jobs so that I could have the best things, and it was not an easy task for a single parent. She was a captain in the army reserves and a registered nurse at D.C. General Hospital. She made sure that I had clothing on my back, food in my stomach, a roof over my head, an education and even a car.

My mother is the head nurse of the AIDS clinic at D.C. General Hospital. She is more than a nurse to her patients; she is a friend to the end. She has no shame or fear because her friends have AIDS. She takes them out to movies, dinner and any other place that she can to make them happy. My mother stays by their sides until they die.

That is why my mother is my hero. MILTON STATON Bishop McNamara

A hero is someone whom people aspire to emulate and who is as close to perfection as humanly possible. All humans are imperfect. A hero is nothing but a human who has caught the public eye for a heroic deed; it is possible for a hero to displease a fickle public at a later time.

Significantly, all heroes have flaws and that is no reason to look at them differently. If a politician is a philanderer, a baseball legend has a gambling problem or the mayor of our nation's capital has a substance abuse illness, that is their private problem. Everyone has his or her lapses and we must forgive them if we want forgiveness ourselves. Idols often have feet of clay and there are no 24-hour a day heroes.

A heroic figure I admire is Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev who made great strides toward world peace between the Soviet Union and the United States. Gorbachev is the most well-respected communist leader, one who has the special gifts of listening and reasoning. He has no apparent plans for ruling the world, and he cares about the welfare of his people. The U.S. suddenly feels comfortable with the Soviet Union because of talks with Gorbachev.

There is no question of a better recipient for the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize than Gorbachev; he is a modern heroic figure of global stature. RACHEL MILSTEAD Northwestern

Heroes are dead.

They are part of another time when children had childhoods and were brought up believing that parents were perfect. Children today have had to confront reality at a much earlier age than the children of other generations. The "baby boom" generation has left behind, as part of their legacy, irresponsible sex, drugs and a lack of interest in education. Any child can view the world they are inheriting by turning on the television and watching the news. They can also watch sitcoms where parents and other authority figures are made fun of.

If children realize that their parents are not perfect, can heroes be far behind? In today's atmosphere, heroes are not believable. Time would be better spent in helping children cope with today's problems than in inventing heroes for them. MICHAEL FORMAN Oxon Hill

There is no doubt that the personal failings of heroes have affected the younger generation, however I think it wise to get a good definition of what a hero should be. In my eyes, a hero is someone who will do right even when it seems easier to just go along with the crowd. A hero is someone who, if it comes to it, will go down standing up. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was such a person.

Although I have been shocked by the actions of various people who I thought were truly genuine, I still hold a deep respect for the ones who didn't just lie there in the cesspool they had created for themselves. They got themselves together and started on a new road. One such person is Jimmy Swaggart.

I also believe that there are many unsung heroes such as the ones who care for people who cannot care for themselves. To me, these are the true heroes because they will not get their recompense until they are rewarded by the Great Rewarder in time to come.

Finally, the greatest hero that was, is, and yet will be is the one who performed the greatest deed. This one is Jesus Christ. ERIC LANHAM Forestville

Students Speak Out:

Topic for Nov. 15

Recently, a retired doctor was charged with setting up what has been termed "a suicide machine," to be used by a terminally ill patient. The device would trigger a lethal injection when activated by a control held by the patient. The doctor said that he simply gave the patient the final choice of when to die. Prosecutors said he was an accessory to the crime of suicide.

Do you believe voluntary euthanasia (medically assisted suicide) for the terminally ill should be legal? Should doctors be the ones to perform it? How does euthanasia relate to the Hippocratic oath? Is there any difference between the currently accepted "living wills," which limit the amount of care a patient wishes to receive, and euthanasia?

Written responses should be no more than 150 words in length and typed or written legibly. We are also interested in receiving political-style cartoons on the topic. Cartoons should be drawn on posterboard.

Students should submit their responses by Nov. 5 with name, age, grade and school included on the work to: High School Honors The Washington Post 1150 15th St. NW Washington, D.C. 20071

We will publish selected responses in the Nov. 15 edition of the Maryland Weekly.