4 Jan

A military press officer and I discussed over dinner, what makes a Hero. We talked about Pat Tillman. Private Jessica Lynch. And American Idol. We agreed, once upon a time, a child grew up wanting to be most like their hero, dad. That has changed.

Children’s ambitions seem to focus on becoming celebrities. Parents marching for Choice, drop jaws when their child expresses a wish to enlist, trying to talk them out of a patriotic Tour of Duty, and into something sensible like movie star or a highly paid athlete. Enlistment numbers pale compared to audition reels flooding reality TV show talent bookers. GI Joe has become a collectible. The Bachelor and Bachelorette are role models. Bachelor Bob is thronged by women impressed he lost weight, yet unmoved to wear ID’s naming soldiers who lost lives in Iraq. 

I wished out loud I had my dictionary with me to look up Webster Dictionary’s definition of “hero.”

Media coverage redefines America’s acceptance of Hero Behaviour. Newsweek Magazine ran pictures of Tillman and the Heinz heiress on their cover. Mrs. Kerry’s Campaign 2004, got 8 pages, and the cover, posing Mother Teresa style, hands cupped in faux prayer. Tillman, the man who died giving Kerry her opportunity to run as Mrs-President-Maybe, got a passport size photo, upper page right, cropping the Army Ranger crest Tillman died for.

Former Cardinals football player Pat Tillman puts a face to the anonymous military coffins of fallen troops voluntarily dying for their America. Tillman’s coach is quoted saying “He just seemed to think something had to be done.” Tillman’s death did something. He gave media pause to report honestly about a man, a soldier. Media, instead, wrote about a celebrity. But that is true to media form, preferring to play up aspiring songsters in the battle of the American Idols, while downplaying America’s men and women sacrificing their lives so the wanna-be’s can belt out every golden oldie except for  “The Star Spangled Banner” or “My Country Tis’ Of Thee.” Newsweek Magazine wrote the millionaire athlete who lost his life in the ambush near Spera, “shocked the world by enlisting in the Army as a Ranger. Tillman told the world why he made the decision to go to war “My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor.” “I haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that.”

Once home, I pulled out my dictionary. “Hero: one that shows great courage.” I decided to look up “Idol: a pretender, an impostor, a form or appearance visible but without substance.” I think people should read dictionaries more often.

USO shows are filled with actors anxious to entertain troops in war zones. Maybe actors, before being flown in, then out of hot spots, should undergo 6 months of the same training military personnel endure for years, logic being if military lives are sacrificed to protect bankable Hollywood properties. Maybe bankable Hollywood properties should be required to train to protect our Guardians. 

Media said adventurer Conan Harrod who slid more than a mile down from Mount Everest’s death zone to an advance camp after breaking his leg, is a hero. I disagree. Harrod was selfish, risking others lives and untold monies for something is overdone.

Media called charity rowers Mike Noel-Smith and Rob Abernathy heroes despite their attempt to raise $500,000 beating a 64 day rowing record crossing the Indian Channel for Meningitis research, failed. Injured Noel-Smith cost taxpayers almost $1,000,000 to rescue. Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes said, “trying to commit suicide just to gain another record is not the be-all and the end-all.” Fiennes does not comment on soldiers voluntarily deploying to war, devoted to protecting home shores.

What is a hero?

A hero is all the red blooded boy or girl who chose to be an American soldier, willing to die so we can have freedom. The eve of deployment, they set aside fears, putting faith in God while walking across the Chapel mat, “Enter to Worship, Depart To Serve.” Tillman is an American hero. Reality is he may become another name memorialized in concrete, a forgotten footnote in history, while Bachelor Bob finds on air love, fame and fortune, as time marches forward. 


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