Article Overview:   Is Jessica Lynch a hero?  Does she deserve a Medal for bravery?  Is she in the league of Sergeant Alvin York or Lt. Audie Murphy?  What makes a hero?  Find out.


Sunday--April 6, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 571
Jessica Lynch--America's 21st Century Sergeant York?
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Apr. 6-- Every war needs a hero--the average American who undergoes extraordinary challenges.    These heroes become our Saints of Vigilance, our Symbols of Security, for they rise out of the ordinary, out of the common dust to which all Americans belong.

Sergeant York wearing Congressional Medal of Honor

       In World War I, a tall lanky guy from Pall Mall, Tennessee became the icon of heroism.  His name was Alvin Cullium York, born Dec. 13, 1887. 
       York was drafted in 1917.   Growing up, York learned to shoot from his father.  Later, he took to "drinkin' and smok'n," (see his personal diary) and thought of himself as Jesse James.   He practiced shooting from a horse with deadly accuracy.
        Then he met Gracie Williams.    She convinced him to give up his worldly ways and he became religious and a tee tottler.
        In the Army, he refused to shoot at human silhouette targets even though he was deadly accurate at 200-500 yards.
        Then the rubber hit the road.  In the battle of the Argonne Forest in the fall of 1918, York was a private with the 82nd division.  Threatened with life or death, York rallied to support his fellow troops.   He killed 25 Germans, knocked out 35 machine guns and captured 132 prisoners almost single-handed.
       For his heroism, he received the French Medaille Militaire, the Croix de Guerre, the Italian Groce de Guerra and the United States Congress Medal Of Honor.
       Upon his return, he married Gracie Williams.   Sergeant York died in 1964.

Audie Murphy was the most decorated war hero in American history

       In World War II, the most decorated soldier was a man named Audie Murphy.
       Murphy was small, 5-feet, 5-inches and underweight 110 lbs when he tried to enlist in the Marines and Paratroopers on his 18th birthday in 1942.   Orphaned at 16, Murphy received only five years of education.  He was a sharecropper's son, and was noted for his daring with a gun and his accuracy.
       In combat, Murphy showed such incredible courage and leadership he was given a battlefield commission.  He spent 400 days on the front lines with the 15th Infantry, and earned every medal of valor America offers, a total of thirty-three.  He became the most decorated war hero in American history.
       He went to Hollywood and made forty-four films, starring in thirty-nine of them.  He was killed in a plane crash on a mountaintop near Roanoke, Virginia on May 28, 1971.
        So how does Pfc. Lynch stack up to Sergeant York and Lt. Audie Murphy, two of America's most famous war heroes?
        First, Jessica Lynch, 19, comes from simple roots.  Her family is from Palestine, West Virginia, part of Wirt County.   The county started out with a population of 10,284 in 1900.  Over the past 100 years instead of swelling as most counties, the number of people has been cut nearly in half, to 5,873. 
        Palestine, the city where Lynch lives, is a dot on the map.   Her humble roots are best summed up by her kindergarten teacher, Linda Davies, who read from a letter she got from Jessica six weeks ago.  In it, Jessica was boasting of how much of the world she had seen already.  "I've been to places half of Wirt County will never see," she wrote., referring to her visits to Mexico, Germany and Kuwait.   Davies said Jessica's goal is to be a teacher, but she wanted to travel first before settling down.

Pfc. Jessica Lynch, hero, willing to die for her country

          Jessica Lynch's life is going to change, just as Alvin York's and Audie Murphy's lives were changed by events greater than themselves.
          In all three cases, the actors were humble people, from humble roots.   They represented the heart and soul of Americanism, the earthiness of it.
         Jessica Lynch is a small town country girl.   Her values rise up out of the earth not from the lectern of some intellectual pundit who claims the greatest liberty of all is the right to burn the American flag.
          Some values, mundane to others, are rich and powerful legacies.   Patriotism is one of those that Jessica Lynch held to, as did Alvin York and Audie Murphy.
          Patriotism and the duty to support his country forced Alvin York to bear arms even though his religious views held fast against killing and death.   He was a moral protestor who, when it came down to kill or be killed, used his skills to cause the surrender of the enemy who ultimately feared his killing precision.
           Jessica Lynch has a family tradition of serving in the military.   Both her brothers are enlisted as well as herself.  
           But serving is not heroism.   Fate has a lot to do with it.
          On March 23 Iraqi forces ambushed the US Army's 507th Maintenance Company and took a number of prisoners, including Jessica.

Audie Murphy's story

        In a script that seems as though Hollywood wrote it, an Iraqi lawyer became so upset at beatings given Jessica that he escaped to American lines and scrawled out the location of the hospital where Jessica was being held prisoner.   The Iraqi, named "Mohammed" told the Marines the soldiers were threatening to amputate Jessica's leg.
         In the first successful POW rescue since WWII, Black Hawk helicopters swooped in under cover and rescued Pfc. Lynch.   They found 11 other bodies at the site, one of them another young woman soldier.
         Heroism comes in many shapes and sizes.
         Sometimes, it's as simple as standing up to the enemy when you didn't have to.
         Alvin York, despite his religious convictions, stood up to the Beast of Terror.

Audie Murphy continued to remain on the front lines

         So did Audie Murphy, not once, but countless times.   Murphy could have retired from the front at any moment he chose, but instead remained on the front lines, risking his life over and over when he didn't have to.
          Jessica Lynch is alive today for a reason.
          Even though her story is not known, she must have defied the Iraqi's or they would not have beaten her.    The Iraqi lawyer and his wife who witnessed the torture and risked their lives to find friendly U.S. forces to tell so they could rescue Pfc. Lynch, must have been stricken by the young woman's resolve.
          How then does Pfc. Lynch stand up to the heroism of a Sergeant York or an Audie Murphy?
           Perhaps just her willingness to be in combat is enough to justify her bravery.
           Here is a young woman assigned to a tank maintenance unit, braving enemy territory to bring supplies to her fellow soldiers.
           Many thousands of 19-year-old young women Jessica's age were not in harm's way.  They may have been gleefully holding up protest signs at some anti-war rally, or, cruising the mall on a shopping spree, or eagerly looking for a husband, or, searching for a job or career.   Not many chose to enlist in the military with the looming clouds of war hanging overhead.
          But Jessica and a brave number of other women did.
          Now, the spotlight is on Jessica.
          And, the question is being asked--Is Jessica a hero?  Does she rank up with the great heroes of American wars--the likes of York and Murphy?

The Sergeant York Commemorative Stamp was issued in 2000

         Jessica Lynch didn't kill--at least we don't know this at the moment--countless Iraqis before being captured.   She didn't capture hundreds of them as did Sergeant York.   And, her front-line experience was limited to one foray turned sour.
          So how could she possibly qualify for the label of "hero."
          Bravery awards are designated for those who "go above and beyond the call of duty."  There are certain behaviors expected of any warrior and then there are those that exceed the average, the expected.   It is those behaviors that make the chemistry for a hero or not.
          Did Jessica Lynch's defiance of her captors achieve that degree?
          Were her broken bones symbols of her struggle to escape, to fight back, and the Iraqi's way of retribution?   Or, were they broken in the due course of being captured?
           And why did they keep Jessica alive and kill the other prisoners?   Was Jessica's defiance so much of a challenge that beating her until she surrendered her will gave Jessica life?   Had she not been so defiant, might her captors have killed her when she did surrender to whatever it was they threatened upon her?
           It's all speculation until there is a clear and concise reporting on the events that transpired, and even then, we may never know exactly what happened.
          But there is one thing for sure.

Vietnam  War Women's Memorial

          Something heroic happened in the hospital in al-Nasiriyah where Jessica was held prisoner.
          Certainly, something heroic happened to cause an Iraqi lawyer and his wife to risk their lives in a five-day search for U.S. Marines to tell them the story of Pfc. Lynch's capture and maltreatment.   Certainly, there is something heroic about the Americans believing the story, and not considering it a trap, and sending in crack troops to free Jessica.
          There is something also heroic about the fact that the rescue team, having no shovels, dug at the earth with their fingers to unearth the bodies of 11 others who had been killed at the site.
           What is bravery?  What is courage?  What is heroism?
            Could the highest order of heroism be defying the enemy when 11 others had been killed and you were the last, awaiting a painful execution?
             Is the mere presence of Pfc. Lynch in a battle zone, subject to the same tortures and pain of any soldier, an act of bravery sufficient for a heroic award?  Or, was she just doing her job, as any soldier?
             It is not easy to define heroes.
             In a way, I hold up Pfc. Jessica Lynch as a top hero, worthy of the Silver Star, America's third highest valor award.   She deserves it for no other reason--and there may be many more than this--than reminding America and the world of the willingness of young Americans to die for others in distant lands.
             Jessica is not the disenfranchised image you would hear war protestors rail upon that fill the ranks of the military.  She doesn't fit the typecast of the marginalized puppet driven into the U.S. military to be used on the front lines by greedy generals as fodder for enemy bullets.
             One of the great myths of anti-American war propaganda evaporates with every scene and story of Jessica Lynch.  She's an average American girl, about as pure American as you can get, willing to die for her country.
              She shames the war protestors who carry horrible signs demeaning America and calling America criminal for its actions, and showing the military as oil-thirsty beast out to rape, pillage and plunder the world.    Shame.  Shame.  Shame.
             The 19-year-olds who take to the streets to scream ugliness upon America do so in the shadow of the bravery of Jessica Lynch to withstand the torture of her captors who use the American protests as fuel to inflict more pain on Jessica.    "See," they say, "Your own countrymen hate you for invading us.  See, you deserve all the pain we can give you.  You are, by your own countrymen's signs and words, evil.  You are evil, Jessica!   Take that.  Take that!"
             The scene turns my stomach, but it could be brutally true.    Every time an American protests against the war, it is another fist in the face of a POW.
           Jessica didn't fold when the Iraqi security agents hit her.
           She so impressed the 32-year-old Iraqi lawyer, Mohammed, that he went on a great journey to get Jessica help.

I see Jessica as a Sentinel of Vigilance

           What then makes a hero?
           Is it the fact she survives?  Is it that she is a woman?   Is it that she represents the first POW rescued since WWII?   Is it that America has rallied behind Jessica as they might their own daughter?
            Personally, I see Jessica Lynch as a Sentinel of Vigilance.   I see her equal to those brave souls who rushed into the World Trade Center to help others.   I see her as the person on the 95th floor more concerned about getting everyone else out of the building than herself.
            I see Jessica Lynch standing in her uniform at attention as some protestor spits in her face and calls her a war criminal and shouts ugly words in her face, and does nothing but stand at attention, unfaltering, knowing in her heart the greatest thing she fought for, and her friends died for in Iraq, was the freedom to say anything without fear or reprisal.
           I also see Jessica Lynch as feeling sorry for the girl who spat in her face, sorry that she is so blind and so embittered she cannot see the power and might of freedom, and can only see its ugliness.

 "I am an American soldier"  said Jessica

           When I was listening to the reports of what Jessica Lynch said when her rescuers approached her in hospital bed, I felt a tear swell.    The first American in is reported to have said, "Jessica, I am an American soldier here to take you out of her."   And Jessica's response:  "I am an American soldier!"
             Her words, I believe, were the American flag.
             It flew out of her mouth.
             It unfurled.
             "I am an American soldier!"
            What greater act of heroism or bravery could one perform after being tortured and beaten--the last American alive in enemy captivity--than to shout out:  "I am an American soldier?"
            Yes, I think Sergeant Alvin York and Lt. Audie Murphy would be proud to have Pfc. Jessica Lynch standing between them in the Hall of Vigilance's Heroes.

 April 5--General Patton vs. Protesting College Professors

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