The worst thing about war is that it takes matters of life and death out of the hands of the divine, outside a state of grace and places these affairs into the graceless, imperfect hands of mortals. WH Auden wrote in his epitaph for the tomb of an unknown soldier, â€œTo save your world, you asked this man to die; Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?â€ American Marines and soldiers are dying in Iraq not because their time has rightly and divinely come but because we have asked them to die. We asked them to die and they did, they died.
November 1, 2004 a convoy of Marines was on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq. My son, John, a corporal and a grunt and at 25 a little older than many of his fellow Marines, always drove point. His job was to clear the way for the rest of the patrol. This meant playing a deadly game of chicken with oncoming traffic to stop any potential vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) before it could target the rest of the convoy.
On this day a lethal, triple stacked IED buried in the road exploded at Johnâ€™s five oâ€™clock and only five meters away. The IED, remotely detonated, hit with full force a second humvee and Johnâ€™s hummer was sprayed with secondary shrapnel; rocks, dirt and blood. Marines, of course, donâ€™t leave Marines behind and John and his four occupants wheeled around to provide support, aid and cover. Though a veteran of multiple firefights and himself a survivor of seven IEDs, John was ill prepared for what he saw.
Five severely wounded Marines clung to life. One man, his lungs collapsed by the force of the blast, was a ghostly yellow blue color. Two men, bones protruding from their pantsâ€™ legs groaned in agony and another was bleeding profusely though mercifully unconscious. 1st Lieutenant Matthew Lynch, 25, clutched his throat with one hand and his blood soaked Johnâ€™s jacket as he gasped, in solemn resignation, his last words.
We asked 1st Lieutenant Lynch to die for us that day and he did. We, therefore, cannot honestly lay blame for his death upon providence. Our actions, our decision to go to war makes us all responsible. For this reason it is incumbent upon all of us to bear the full weight of his death. It is also incumbent upon all of us to remember every one of these lives that have been lost at our request. We must never, ever forget them. This is one point of commonality we all share regardless of whether we agree with the war. We must never forget.
Each Friday, a small drama plays out on a couple of street corners in Bandon, Oregon where even the act of mourning has become contentious in this sadly polarized nation. Women in Black stand in silence for one hour to mourn the fallen. Dressed in black the group is comprised of ordinary citizens, military families like me, combat veterans and Purple Heart recipients.
A few months ago a group formed across the street. â€œSupport the Troopsâ€ banners, American flags, patriotic music and red, white and blue mark their corner in stark contrast to the somber Women in Black. Unlike Women in Black, they are not silent, instead shouting angry commentary toward our corner, calling us traitors and cowards. From all appearances they have set up to protest our vigil, to be â€˜counter mournersâ€™ if you will.
While I would never have believed mourning could arouse such a reaction, (if we mourned in red, white and blue would it be different?), that our vigil has caused people to think about the troops is an accomplishment for which I will happily endure their taunts. My hope is that we all feel the weight of Matthew Lynch on our shoulders, the grief of his family, the pain of his widow. Our footprints should all become deeper and our knees buckle under the burden of each loss of life because nothing demoralizes the troops more than public complacency.