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Published: Tuesday, 11/18/2003

Extraordinary, ordinary heroes

BY EILEEN FOLEY

I m fonder of former Pfc. Jessica Lynch today than I ever was when the Pentagon tried to turn her into a superhero.

Captured in Iraq at age 19, after the vehicle she rode in crashed under gunfire, she was left with critical injuries that still require physical therapy today.

She described what happened to her and her life as an American soldier in a low-key way on Primetime the other night. It was the story of one soldier and her fatally misdirected team.

Ms. Lynch didn t lead troops into and out of battle, or take out a nest of sharpshooters. That wasn t the nature of her valor, which isn t always about the same stuff. There are countless themes and variations, though it s always about ordinary people getting through and rising above extraordinary events no matter their fears.

Ms. Lynch rose to that level, as hundreds of other American 19- and 20-year-olds have done since the start of the sorry war into which their commander-in-chief misled them. They did it staying true to their commitment and doing their job, a key to survival in tough times. The job replaces fear with purpose.

It tied Private Lynch to her colleagues. They were feeders, suppliers, and helpers more than warriors, but they were American soldiers, too, and they never forgot it.

Ms. Lynch didn t plunk herself down in the national spotlight. She did not fashion herself an icon to Americanism. The politicos did that. As her team s sole survivor, she could have gone along with the spin. To her credit, she didn t.

The nation rallied around a fiction even as the tales about her derring-do proved as mythical as those of cruelty against her in an Iraqi hospital where she regained consciousness. Hers was a story of a jammed weapon and an instant knock-out when she was thrown from the Humvee transporting her. She wasn t knifed. She did not kill Iraqis.

She told, too, of Iraqi nurses who cared for her. Of one who sang her an Arabic lullaby and rubbed her back with talc to assuage her pain and her fear; of another who knew that laughter, even if it hurts, helps soul and body to heal.

Throughout her ordeal, this young soldier, like many uniformed young Americans in Iraq today, proved adept at survival. For her it was an act of will. But fate had a part, and so did the kindnesses of an Iraqi enemy.

Now there are efforts to demean her because she posed for nude pictures with fellow soldiers before she went to Iraq.

Scandalous? Hardly, except for those still deplorably prudish when it comes to the human body. Publisher Larry Flynt refused to run them, showing an uncustomary spark of compassion. Hopefully they won t surface in the scandal sheets or on the Internet.

Who knows the reason for the indiscretion, if indeed it was one? Maybe it seemed OK, or fun, or a little free and naughty.

The pictures don t take her down. In a small way they put her in the ranks of all heroes, ordinary people, each with his or her own warts, who rose above their station to accomplish marvelous things.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who changed race relations in this country like no other, was a womanizer. Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia Piedmont slaveowner, though he knew better, penned this nation s freedom charter. And the Green Mountain boys were land speculators who expanded their holdings through terror that history now calls patriotism

National icons, and common soldiers who represent us well, and the rest of us, have clay feet. But we learn from them. We learn that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

They surpass themselves and their commonalities, reaching down into the fount of spiritual power that is at the core of each of us to accomplish difficult and worthwhile things.

For Jessica Lynch, and so many other ordinary young men and women in uniform in Iraq, just being who and what they are in that place ratchets them higher than those of us on the home front, including the man who sent them.

That s why even those of us who find this invasion and occupation sinister, ignorant, ill-conceived, and poorly managed never waver in our support for these heroic troops.



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