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Hail Spartacus

Pat Tillman's real heroism

By Peter Bellone

LET'S GET something straight: Jessica Lynch isn't a hero. Her whole deal was Murphy's Law, not Audie Murphy. As for the book deal and the motivational tour, I say work it, sister; somebody's got to win the lottery, and you suffered more than any other ticket holder. To the firefighters and the policemen who died on 9/11, God bless, and it's a shame 2 1/2 years later the police fund still calls my house for donations, but all of you left this world doing what you were supposed to do. That made you all good men, better than most, but there are still better: the heroes, the people who truly go beyond the call of duty. That's the whole rationale behind medals: You did something you didn't have to do.

Pat Tillman--now, there's a hero. All those people asking, "What about all the others serving?" need to shut up. That's an outrageous question. It suggests the idea of same boat, same sacrifice. Bullshit.

How many of those soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan would've walked away from a $4 million contract? From the roar of the crowd? (Let's make a distinction from fame. More people know the name of, let's say, Bob Costas. However, when Tillman intercepted a pass and ran it in for a touchdown at home, 60,000 people simultaneously acknowledged he was the man; that never happened to Mr. Costas.)

Even more impressive, he walked away from his dream, what he worked his whole life for. This, right here, puts him on another level from sons of privilege who go off to war; it has to be easier to walk away from something you haven't earned or bled for. Furthermore, the risk for Tillman was much greater than for the rich person. One can lose a few fingers or a leg and still run daddy's company. In order to resume his career, not only would Tillman have had to dodge death, he pretty much would have had to dodge any moderate injury. In this day of the superathlete, I don't think a Rocky Bleier (he was a fullback for Pittsburgh who had his legs shredded by a land mine in Vietnam) sort of comeback would have been possible.

Speaking of the rich and famous at war, most were officers--mainly pilots like Jimmy Stewart, Ted Williams and Joseph Kennedy Jr. Don't misunderstand me, this entails serious risk--think Joe Jr.--but it is also romantic and glamorous, and if you come back in one piece, you're guaranteed a cold beer and a bed every night. Now compare this to Tillman's choice: he earned a degree and had the physical skills and focus to be a fighter pilot. At the very least, he could've been an officer. But no, he went to Ranger School as an enlisted man. The infantry! As a private! I know from being a Marine infantryman that life can be miserable. You sleep in holes and wake up in puddles. And being a Ranger is a lot harder than being a grunt. And an enlisted man eats more crap than an officer. Considering what he gave up, he could've had any job in the military and still held the awe of the nation. This makes his pick all the more hard-core.

All those cynics out there who say, "His degree is in marketing, and he knew by not giving any interviews he increased the monetary value of his story," need to shut the hell up. That's outright slander. Tillman turned down a $9 million deal from the St. Louis Rams, so there's no way he did this for future earnings or to break into Hollywood. I know it pains some people, but he's a 100-year flood of virtue, a man who is in the same league as Spartacus.

And it took such a hero to expose a man who thinks he's one: Bill O'Reilly.

On that fateful Friday, the Tillman story lead every cable news show I scanned, except one: The O'Reilly Factor. Instead, O'Reilly kicked off his show with a story about a judge who resigned, and O'Reilly took the credit for the career kill. This is so telling; he picked self-glorification over the heroic. Jesus, Bill, you ran the author of Generation S.L.U.T before Tillman. That's even lower as far as I'm concerned. You picked pandering to your base over the heroic. I'll never watch your show again.

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From the May 5-11, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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