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Thursday, April 22

Commentary: GI exhibits style, grace amid hype

By Luther Keith | The Detroit News

Thank you, Shoshana Johnson. Thank you for your service to our country, for risking your life, for enduring 22 days as a prisoner of war in Iraq and, almost as important, exhibiting class, dignity and grace in the midst of controversy.

Expect to hear a lot of that Sunday when the NAACP's Detroit branch honors you at its annual Fight For Freedom Dinner.

We know you arenít in the Army anymore and are moving on with your life. But Iím sure you realize it will take a long time before people forget your story.

You come from a military family and were simply looking to better the lives of yourself and your daughter when you enlisted and were assigned as a cook to the 507th Maintenance Company. You made friends with a young private in your unit named Jessica Lynch.

That she was blond and white and you were dark-haired and black was unimportant.

You both understood the importance of executing your duties. You shared a common commitment in the face of uncommon danger on March 23, 2003, when your convoy was ambushed in Iraq.

Eleven of your comrades were killed and you were shot in both feet. You, Lynch, and four other soldiers were captured. Lynch suffered multiple broken bones and other injuries when her Humvee crashed after being struck by a grenade.

Lynch was rescued later by a military Special Forces unit which broke into an Iraqi hospital.

While you and your fellow POWs were still in captivity at another location, military officials ó apparently looking to win more public support for the war with Iraq ó wove a tale of Lynchís stirring heroism.

Newspapers ran stories with Army officials describing Lynch as resisting until the end, blazing away with her weapon before she was captured.

From a media standpoint, it was great stuff ó the tale of how a spunky 20-year-old woman from middle America endured the torment of war and capture. Lynch landed a lucrative book deal and was the subject of a network television special and a made-for-TV movie.

None of those opportunities came your way when you and your fellow prisoners were less dramatically released by your captors nearly two weeks after Lynch was rescued. By that time, Jessica Lynch mania was in full swing.

Many African Americans wondered why there was so much media focus on Lynch and almost none on you, a woman who was injured and captured in the same incident. The rub cut deeper when it was learned that Lynch was awarded an 80 percent disability benefit by the Army and you were given a 30 percent benefit, which prompted your father to seek the services of the Rev. Jesse Jackson on your behalf.

The Army explained the difference was based on the difference in your disabilities.

It was not just a racial issue, though. Crusty military veterans of all colors resented the media extolling Lynch as a hero when all she did was what might be expected of any soldier.

Lynch herself, who canít be blamed for capitalizing on her fame, was genuinely embarrassed by all the attention and told ABCís Diane Sawyer that, far from being a hero, she never fired a shot during the attack by the Iraqis.

Whatever your feelings were, Shoshana, you never publicly displayed bitterness or resentment and continued to describe Lynch as a friend. In fact, you posed for pictures together in November at Glamour magazineís Women of the Year Awards.

And now you have become a bit of a celebrity yourself, albeit one without book deals or a television special. You have been feted by the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at its annual convention last year.

Through it all, youíve shown that thereís no substitute for conducting oneself with dignity and class, even when life seems unfair.

For that, we should not just honor you. We should learn from you.