WASHINGTON - Truth, it is famously said, is the first casualty of war.
And thus it has been for two of the most celebrated official heroes of America's campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One was Pat Tillman, the pro-football star who gave up the NFL's riches to serve, and ultimately die for, his country.
The other was a blonde teenage girl from West Virginia whose capture and rescue in the early days of the Iraq conflict inspired the TV drama-documentary 'Saving Jessica Lynch.' Now however the two stories have returned to haunt the Pentagon.
Both stand revealed as propaganda operations in which the truth was deliberately distorted to inspire a country and allay public doubts about the righteousness of the cause.
For the US military they have become a colossal embarrassment; for gleeful Democrats they are another stick with which to beat an already battered administration.
On Tuesday, the two cases converged in a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform, chaired by the California Congressman, Henry Waxman, an especially harsh tormentor of the Bush White House since the Democrats recaptured Congress last November.
Mr Waxman now promises to follow both affairs wherever they lead - in the Tillman case, he hints, perhaps to a cover-up involving Donald Rumfeld, the former Defence Secretary, in person.
Of the two, the Jessica Lynch saga contains the lesser danger for the administration.
She was taken prisoner by Saddam Hussein's troops, and freed from hospital within the space of barely a week in March and April 2003.
By the end of that year the initial version of her capture and release, featuring her as a latter day Annie Oakley, who went down all guns firing, and her liberators as all-American supermen, had been demolished as a feel-good PR special dreamt up by the Pentagon.
In fact she was rendered unconscious by the crash of her vehicle.
As for her release, it was a splendid opportunity to showcase military derring-do, in the shape of a dramatic (and conveniently filmed) assault against what in fact was an unresisting hospital.
From early on, Ms Lynch complained how she felt she had been used.
This week she made her feelings crystal clear again, to Mr Waxman's committee.
"The story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting is not true," she said.
"The bottom line is, the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes, and they don't need to be told elaborate lies." When NBC ran its film in November 2003, she noted later, such were the inaccuracies she could not bear to watch it through to the end.
But her case, to all intents and purposes, is closed.
Not so that of Corporal (posthumously promoted to Sergeant) Tillman.
His story was the stuff of a military recruiter's dreams.
An established star with the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League, he turned down a US$3.6 million ($4.84m) contract in 2002 to enlist in the elite Army Rangers, to hunt down those responsible for the 9/11 attacks six months before.
He was handsome, personable, and just 27 years old when he was killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in April 2004.
This fact was known to members of his unit, but was instantly suppressed.
It took more than a month for his family to be notified of what had happened, by which time the US Army had concocted the story of how he had died under enemy fire - and also concocted a citation for a Silver Star, the military's third highest award for valour in combat.
Since then matters have grown steadily more convoluted, despite two investigations and a report from the Pentagon's inspector general that identified nine officers who might be disciplined over the affair.
One of them, Lt. General Philip Kensinger, head of Army special operations in 2004, refused to testify to the committee on Tuesday, invoking his right to avoid self-incrimination.
But the new information that did emerge was damaging enough.
An Army Ranger who was with Sgt. Tillman when he died told how he realised at once that friendly fire was to blame, and wanted to tell Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother, who was serving in the same unit.
But he was ordered not to by his battalion commander, with an implicit warning that he "would get in trouble" if he disobeyed.
Kevin's testimony was even more bitter.
He accused the military of "deliberate and calculated lies," designed to transform his brother's tragic death into "an inspirational message" - carefully timed to divert attention from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal which erupted only days later, and mounting US casualties in Iraq.
Mr Waxman now wants to resolve the question left unanswered by the Pentagon reports, of how high the cover-up extended.
As Mary Tillman, Pat's mother noted, her son's decision to give up a lucrative NFL career attracted so much attention that Mr Rumsfeld in 2002 sent him a personal letter of thanks.
It was inconceivable the latter was not informed when he died, Ms Tillman argues.
Thus, too, the ominous words of Mr Waxman, redolent of countless Washington scandals past.
"We don't know what the Secretary of Defence knew, and we don't know what the White House knew. These are questions this committee seeks answers to."
In other words, Mr Rumsfeld's thus far quiet retirement may be rudely interrupted, by his own personal appearance before Mr Waxman and his fellow searchers for truth.