Someone else will write the about the waste, defend the excuses, and buff the creators like an old jalopy to be rolled out onto the sales lot one more time.
The rest of us are standing in the middle of the highway with a push broom sighing at the task of cleaning up the junk left by a decade of war, because the ones who put it there won’t ever take responsibility for it.
That will never change.
What has changed are the lives of thousands of American and Iraqi families who lost loved ones. I think of a small town, I think it was in Kentucky, which in the first two years of the war lost nine or ten service members, a burden shared by all; an empty room in a home on every other block.
Then I think of what was said recently to me as I wrote news stories about the challenges faced by returning soldiers: They are the 1 percent.
Our volunteer military now draws from just 1 percent of the U.S. population. A special breed, without question.
We no longer even allow the pretense of the Civil War when rich families displayed their patriotism by buying off the war service of their sons by paying some poor slug $300 to serve instead. It has become someone else’s duty.
I think instead of the day in 2004 when I reported for work and read an email about a Mine Hill soldier being killed in Baghdad. Another small town; another empty bedroom.
That was Sgt. Ryan Doltz, one of four New Jersey Army National Guard members killed over two days that June.
Then last November I had the honor of covering the service for Sgt. Michael D. Krispel Jr. of Hopatcong, who died in the Village of Khwaja Kinti, Afghanistan.
Two of the 1 percent.
I think of the silence of those main streets in Mine Hill and Wharton as the services took place. The giant American flag floating above the empty road, the air absent because grief needs room to expand.
I think of the silence of the vast Arlington National Cemetery where Sgt. Ryan Doltz was buried, and the silence of the smaller brookside St. Mary’s Cemetery in Mine Hill, where Sgt. Michael Krispel rests. The weighted air felt the same; the silence like a dome that protected all those at the service, both shielding their sorrow and focusing thier grief.
Leave it here.
I think of a comment made by Donald Klein, state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders, 60 of whom were there when Sgt. Michael Krispel was honored.
“Sometimes I have stood alone,” Klein said. “It means as much.”
I think about a comment Cheryl Doltz made about the general who accompanied her to her son’s grave at Arlington, how he was shaking, as if all the judgment of all the choices made for years that resulted in Ryan Doltz being in that spot on that Baghdad highway when the IED exploded, had come to plague his soul.
What would that general have said to Sgt. Michael Krispel’s family?
We’re sorry for your loss? Thank you for your service?
How about that he died protecting the men placed under his command, that at 23, he displayed great courage and leadership beyond his years.
Or how Michael Krispel will never again straddle his quad and feel the wind in his hair as he climbed one more ridge, saw one more eagle soar; will never again fill his lungs with air and shout out his joy of that moment.
Or how Ryan Doltz will never again have the chance as a firefighter to lead a family to safety as their home burns, or had he the chance to serve, the opportunity to tell his fellow town council members what he thought about their actions.
That is what we lost.
Out of the junk of this war, that is what we must resurrect.
Michael Stephen Daigle
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