WASHINGTON -- Quick: Name a movie star, a noted celebrity, a great athlete and a radio or TV personality. When I posed these queries to some nice Americans this week, I got answers such as: "Russell Crowe," "Paris Hilton," "Britney Spears," "quarterback Tom Brady," "Curt Schilling of the Red Sox," "Tiger Woods" and "Rush Limbaugh."
Now: Can you name a contemporary American hero? Only two of the dozen or so people I challenged came up with, "Navy SEAL Michael Murphy." That says a lot about what our mainstream media thinks is important.
Last month, during a prime-time telecast of the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards, actor James Spader and actress Sally Field were honored for their "dramatic portrayals" of fictional characters. In December, the 30th Annual Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast on prime-time TV so we can pay tribute to "daring" entertainers such as Steve Martin, Diana Ross and Martin Scorsese. Then there are the Country Music Association Awards, the Tony Awards and, of course, the Oscars. Even the best television commercials are celebrated with the ultimate recognition of appreciation -- prime-time network television coverage and front-page newsprint. This week, in her daily "Katie's Notebook" radio broadcast, Katie Couric described those who get colonoscopies as her heroes.
Katie is wrong. Heroes are people who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. They are selfless. Talented actors, movie stars, Hollywood celebs and winning athletes might make great entertainment, but for people who are really dramatic, people who accomplish real feats of daring, try the names Paul Ray Smith, Jason Dunham and Michael Murphy.
Thanks to our mainstream media, most Americans haven't the foggiest idea who these remarkable men were, what they did or where they did it. The word "were" is important because each of these men is dead. They were all in the prime of life when they died fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of them has a story that would make a blockbuster Hollywood film, which most likely will never be made. Each of them lost his life trying to save the lives of others. Each of them is a real American hero -- honored for "gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty" with the highest tribute and most prestigious decoration that our nation's military can bestow on an individual: the Medal of Honor. Sadly, few outside their families and a small circle of friends know who they were and what they did.
Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith was 33 when he was mortally wounded on April 4, 2003, near Baghdad International Airport. "In total disregard for his own life," Smith braved "withering enemy fire" to repel an attack by more than 100 heavily armed fedayeens and saved the lives of scores of his soldiers.
Cpl. Jason Dunham was a 22-year-old squad leader in Karabilah, Iraq. On April 14, 2004, while grappling with a suspected insurgent after an ambush, the terrorist released a hand grenade. "Without hesitation, Cpl. Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body." His ultimate and selfless act of bravery "saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines."
Lt. Michael Murphy was 29, a Navy SEAL, leading a four-man team in the mountains of Afghanistan's Kunar province on June 28, 2005. When they were surrounded and engaged by more than 30 Taliban terrorists, every man was gravely wounded during a two-hour-long gunfight. Yet "in the face of almost certain death," Murphy fought his way to an exposed position to radio for help and then fought on until he was mortally wounded.
After presenting the Medal of Honor to Murphy's parents at the White House this week, President Bush said, "With this medal, we acknowledge a debt that will not diminish with time -- and can never be repaid." Unfortunately, thanks to our mainstream media, most Americans don't even know about this debt or the heroes to which it is owed. Though Michael Murphy was a native of Long Island, N.Y., The New York Times, which proudly boasts "all the news that's fit to print," gave limited coverage to the award.
In this war, courage isn't the only thing that doesn't get the coverage it deserves. The potentates of the press virtually ignored this week's announcement from Baghdad by Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno and Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar that since June, terrorist attacks have dropped by 59 percent; that casualties from improvised explosive devices are down 80 percent; that sectarian violence is off by 72 percent; that there has been an 81 percent drop in Iraqi civilians killed.
Last week, there were no coalition casualties -- Iraqi or American -- in Anbar province. Just a year ago, this was the main base for al-Qaida and the bloodiest place in Mesopotamia. Having spent six of my eight trips to Iraq in Anbar, this is great news. But what am I thinking? Good news from Iraq or Afghanistan -- or about heroes like Paul Ray Smith, Jason Dunham and Michael Murphy who fight there -- is no news.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.