But that appears to have been precisely the plan in the case of Army Ranger Pat Tillman.
Tillman captured the nation's respect when, after the Sept. 11 attacks, he gave up a lucrative pro football career to join the Army.
He died in Afghanistan in April 2004, killed by gunfire from fellow U.S. soldiers. But fratricide mysteriously evolved into a Silver Star recommendation for "engaging the enemy."
In congressional testimony on Tuesday, Kevin Tillman, the dead soldier's brother who gave up a minor-league baseball career to enlist at the same time, accused the Pentagon and the administration of using his brother's death to avoid embarrassment. The Abu Ghraib scandal was about to break.
Army Spc. Bryan O'Neal, an eyewitness, testified that he was ordered not to tell Kevin Tillman or the rest of the family the truth.
Former Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was captured by Iraqis early in the war and rescued, also told of her frustration with the hyping of heroics she could not actually claim.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, heroes are in abundance. Dying while serving his country, Pat Tillman is indeed one of these.
Lying simply dishonors this heroism and sullies the Army.
The question now is whether the Army can be trusted in what it says about other deaths and other matters.