The most famous army private in America has now truly earned her heroic accolades but not on the battlefield. Don't get me wrong, I believe that any soldier who survives Iraq is heroic and worthy of our love and admiration, it's just that Jessica Lynch wasn't any more or less extraordinary than the average grunt -- until she spoke out before Washington's power elite on behalf fellow soldier Pat Tillman. She debunked her own Pentagon manufactured "Rambo" mythology before a congressional committee that also heard about the dishonesty shadowing the "friendly fire" death in Afghanistan of Tillman.
After spending nearly three years committed to helping the troops tell the truth of their war experiences, hearing Ms. Lynch say to the world, "the truth of war is not easy. The truth of war is always more heroic than the hype" marks a turning point in the war for me and for all Americans. Perhaps now the media who eagerly took dictation about the Tillman and Lynch propaganda --swallowing it hook and sinker, will begin to understand how thoroughly they've been mislead by the administration and Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon on dozens of other issues related to the war. The saddest aspect of the Army's manufacturing of heroic narratives is that by doing so they negate the legitimate heroes who do incredible things but will never become household names.
Take Justin LeHew, a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant who helped lead the Task Force Tarawa push through the nightmare that was Nasiriyah during the initial invasion. "Gunny" LeHew, who has since been promoted, was awarded the navy's second highest honor for valor for his authentic heroics on the very day that Private Lynch's convoy took its now historic wrong turn. LeHew told me his story humbly and without fanfare and as I listened I was astonished that his exploits were not better known. Here is what his Navy Cross citation reports:
"When the beleaguered United States Army 507th Maintenance Company convoy was spotted in the distance, Gunnery Sergeant LeHew and his crew were dispatched to rescue the soldiers. Under constant enemy fire, he led the rescue team to the soldiers. With total disregard for his own welfare, he assisted the evacuation effort of four soldiers, two of whom were critically wounded. While still receiving enemy fire, he climbed back into his vehicle and immediately began suppressing enemy infantry."
But "Gunny" LeHew's day didn't end there. He told me that later in the area of Nasiriyah, he spotted an amphibious assault vehicle that had been hit by at least two rocket-propelled grenades. "The vehicle came to a rolling halt right in front of us and I saw the crewmen who were on fire but still moving. They were hanging out of the hatches or maybe trying to crawl out and then men that were in the back were falling out and they were on fire."
"Doc and I ran over and I'll never forget how dumb we were because we didn't have our helmets or flak vests or anything - not even our weapons, just his medical pack. The first thing I saw was the severed leg of a marine lying on the ramp, so I picked it up and I handed it to Doc. I said, Lay this off to the side because we are going to find who that belongs to. '' LeHew hoped that if the marine was still alive, the leg could be reattached.
After this rescue he moved on through "ambush alley" to the scene of more gruesome carnage, a place so hellish he could only describe it as "madness and chaos." After taking significant casualties from Iraqi RPGs and mortars, this unit of shell-shocked marines had been strafed by the American Air force in a "friendly fire" incident - one largely unknown to the public.
"When I started triaging people...most of the ones I dealt with still had their limbs and they were hit with fragmentations, not gunshot wounds. It was friendly fire from the A-10's."
One wonders if the largely unknown exploits of a real hero like LeHew have been played down because his story, in part exposes exactly the kind of mistakes that drove the cover-up in the Tillman case. As a result there will likely be no book deals or movies-of-the-week for Gunny LeHew. No matter, he hasn't got time to worry about it. He is soon off to Iraq with the men he calls "my boys" for a third tour.