ABC News has an article today in Google News about Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman, you may remember, was a professional football player with the Arizona Cardinals who left his lucrative football career to join the Army after 9-11 and was killed in action in Afghanistan.
It seems as if the government was trying to play his death up as heroic, fighting against a numerically superior enemy and exhorting his men to take the fight to them. In fact, CPL Tillman was killed by "friendly fire" and not by enemy fighters.
The Tillman family speculates that the warrior hero image was conjured up to shift attention from the building scandal that was Abu Ghraib. They claim that Pat did not die a hero, but as a victim of circumstance.
Jessica Lynch, girl soldier, also testified that stories told about her heroics were likewise exaggerated. Contrary to reports that she went down fighting, she said, her weapon jammed and she prayed for help.
"I'm still confused as to why they chose to lie and try to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary," Lynch said in her testimony. "The American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes, and they don't need to be told elaborate tales."
The article goes on to question if the White House knew about the false story, and concludes by noting that the Pentagon has not punished anyone for the falsehoods.
Here's my take on the whole thing. Pat Tillman gave up personal wealth and fame to serve his country in Afghanistan. Jessica Lynch, when captured, conducted herself in a manner befitting her status as United States Soldier, and identified herself as such to the rescue team. Both are heroes, not because of what happened to them, but because of how they reacted to it.
If CPL Tillman, for instance, had mocked those who gave up promising futures in order to enlist, and possibly die, in the War on Terror instead of answering the call to duty himself, my opinion of him would be far different. He was mocked instead, but unhesitatingly gave up his position with Arizona to go to a different sort of desert. That makes him a hero.
If PVT Lynch had, for instance, allowed herself to be paraded about on television cameras while making demeaning statements about her country or her government after being captured by the Iranian bumper boat squad, my opinion of her would be far different. But, by all accounts, she conducted herself honorably, and that makes her a heroine.
To Jessica Lynch and to the family of Pat Tillman, I have this to say. Being a hero isn't about how you die.
It's about how you live.
Sir Galahad, detail of a painting by George Frederic Watts, 1864