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August 01, 2004

On the nature of heroes, and how society chooses who to mythologize.

I've waited to blog this until I knew what I wanted to say. I've come to a conclusion, I guess.

The creation of heroes in any society is pretty much a product of the media, and/or clever hype - as tempered by what the populace wishes to consume and assimilate.

It's hard to assimilate, however, if the story isn't out there. And the only place this story seems to be is the blog-world, which, while growing, is still an insular place, with it's continents of like-thinker-linkers among the general firmament of the Internet.

Who is the hero? How do we measure that?

Is it PFC Jessica Lynch? Who was a soldier in a marginally-led unit who was captured in a convoy ambush with an apparently unserviceable weapon (see 'marginally led,' above) and the subject of a dramatic rescue?

Who, if you Google her, will generate over 300,000 references? The leader being her very own domain and the website thereat? (No slam intended to Ms. Lynch - as far as I know she's never pretended to be what the government and media initially portrayed her as, and she'd be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity - I have NO quarrel with her... her story is just illustrative of what I talking about).

Her website opens with this poem from a 12-year old:

This Poem was posted on the Jessica Lynch Forums and touched me so much I had to include it on the Main page, it was written by 12 y/o Candice Malone of Virginia Dear Jessica this poem is for you.

An American hero
Jessica from what I hear you are really cool,
I also hear you want to be a teacher at an Elementary school.
You left your country to fight in danger,
you were trying to free people who were filled with anger.
You are now all over TV you have become an American hero,
when I compare you to any superhero in the world you win 10 to 0.

After her website, we find the UK Guardian, United Justice, Time Magazine, the BBC, NBC, New York Daily News, and ABC news heading out the first page.

By contrast, do a Google Search on SFC Paul Ray Smith, and you'll get circa 12,000 entries. Led by bloggers. AlphaPatriot, Winds of Change, *then* you'll get to SFC Smith's eponymous posthumous website, the Fallen Heroes Memorial, Bryan Strawser's blog, Enter Stage Right, Free Republic, GOP USA, and, finally, The Final Roll Call, a list of the casualties.

I quit after 5 pages of Google hits. Not once did I see a 'major news outlet.'

Such is the nature of 'news.' The government made the announcement, but hasn't pushed it. The 'nets choose to ignore the story. It's not 'news.' Hey - it's their business, one assumes they know what 'news' is. And a dead white guy ain't news.

It's just a Medal of Honor. The nation's highest award. Possibly to be awarded to a dead white guy. No big deal. Happens all the time. Good looking blonde chicks (maybe raped!, they added breathlessly) getting rescued by Special Operators - that's news. I got it. They get to decide who the heroes are going to be... unless we make our own choices. I choose to work for SFC Smith. Jessica has all the help she needs.

LEADERSHIP: Medal of Honor Awarded for Iraq Action

October 23, 2003: In today's world, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that one man can make a difference. Paul Ray Smith is on the way to becoming the first serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor since MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randall Shughart fought their last battle in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, SFC (Sergeant First Class) Smith was a platoon sergeant/acting platoon leader in the 1st Brigade's B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion attached to the 2-7 Task Force. Bravo Company was in contact with Saddam's forces nearly every day during the second phase of the campaign. After a pause below As Samawah and Karbala, the drive on Baghdad from the south carried the 2-7th into Saddam International Airport.

On the morning of April 4, the Task Force was inside of the airport and several enemy soldiers had been captured, so a containment pen had be to quickly built. There was a wall 10 ft tall paralleling the north side of the highway, on the battalion's flank just behind the front lines. Smith (whose callsign was 'Sapper 7') decided to punch a hole in it, so that the inside walls would form two sides of a triangular enclosure and the open third side could be closed off with rolls of concertina wire.

Smith used an armored combat earthmover to punch through the wall and, while wire was being laid across the corner, one of the squad's two M113s moved toward a gate on the far side of the courtyard. The driver pushed open the gate to open a field of fire, revealing between 50 and 100 enemy soldiers massed to attack. The only way out was the hole the engineers had put in the wall and the gate where the hardcore Iraqis were firing.

What happened next was equal to Audie Murphy's legendary World War II heroism. Iraqi soldiers perched in trees and a nearby tower let loose with a barrage of RPGs and there were snipers on the roof. A mortar round hit the engineers' M-113, seriously wounding three soldiers inside. Smith helped evacuate them to an aid station, which was threatened by the attack as well.

Smith promptly organized the engineers' defense, since the only thing that stood between the Iraqis and the Task Force's headquarters were about 15 to 20 engineers, mortarmen and medics. A second M113 was hit by an RPG, but was still operational. Dozens of Iraqi soldiers were charging from the gate or scaling a section of the wall, jumping into the courtyard.

Smith took over the second APC's .50-caliber machine gun and got the vehicle into a position where he could stop the Iraqis. First Sergeant Tim Campbell realized that they had to knock out the Iraqi position in the tower and after consulting with Smith, led two soldiers to take the tower. Armed only with a light machine-gun, a rifle and a pistol with one magazine, the trio advanced behind the smoke of tall grass that had caught fire from exploding ammunition.

Smith yelled for more ammunition three times during the fight, going through 400 rounds before he was hit in the head. Shortly before taking the tower and gunning down the Iraqis inside, Campbell noticed that the sound of Smith's .50-caliber had also stopped. Campbell figured Smith was just reloading again.

The medics worked on SFC Smith for 30 minutes, but he was dead.

According to the citation, his actions killed 20 to 50 Iraqis, allowing the American wounded to be evacuated, saving the aid station and headquarters (as well as possibly 100 American lives). Fellow soldiers credit Smith with thwarting the advance of well-trained, well-equipped soldiers from the Special Republican Guard, which was headed straight for the 2-7 Task Force's headquarters (Tactical Operations Center), less than a half-mile away. The battle captains, commanders and journalists huddled at the operations center were trying to protect themselves against tank fire and snipers in the nearby woods They had no idea about the possible onslaught of Republican Guard from the nearby complex.

Smith, a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, was a 33 year old from Tampa, Florida. He left behind a wife, a son and a daughter.

Like it or not, Private Lynch was a mostly passive participant in the battle and aftermath that have brought her fame, and perhaps (one hopes) some fortune, as well. As long as she can refrain from playing the victim card - she can be a 'little h' hero in my book, along with every other soldier who got stuck at the sharp end.

SFC Smith? Well, he was just another soldier doing his job, eh?

No story here. Move along. We like our heroes alive, pretty, and with nice hair.