The Tillman Saga: What Makes a Hero?

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Well they say time loves a hero
but only time will tell
If he’s real, he’s a legend from heaven
If he ain’t he was sent here from hell

LITTLE FEAT

Coming off of the news that Pat Tillman, the pro football player turned Army Ranger, may have been murdered and was not a victim of friendly fire in Afghanistan, there has been discussion anew of what constitutes a hero soldier.

Does a soldier have to perform Audie Murphy-like feats to be a hero? Does someone like Tillman (at left in photo with brother Kevin), who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract with the Phoenix Cardinals to enlist in the Army in the wake of 9/11, qualify as a hero? What about No Name soldiers who are killed with nary a shred of publicity, their passing barely noticed?

These questions are even more pungent because the White House has worked assiduously to try to insulate a public increasingly sour on the Iraq war from the realities of combat. And obscenely, the Pentagon has tried to downplay the carnage to such an extent that the service branches have been stingy in awarding medals because they call attention to those realities. (See the following post for more on this.)

I’ll get to my answer as to who is a hero in a moment, but first the story of the journey that I took to get to that answer.

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