Sunday, August 31, 2008

Just a quick little update to my entry on the Run for the Fallen: one of the volunteers, Kathi, had read it so she sent me an e-mail with this link to a story in Stars and Stripes
At the bottom of the story is a link to video of the end of the race and the speech, as well as the time we spent in Section 60.

This is a link to Kathi's blog: Thank you Kathi, and all of those involved in Run for the Fallen!

Friday, August 29, 2008

I've been reading a mystery (I'm almost always reading a mystery!): this one by a Canadian named Louise Penny. The book is called The Cruelest Month, an allusion to T.S. Eliot's assessment of April. Lots of poetry, a strong story of good and evil and how we tend to encompass both. But what struck me about this book was a short passage when Armand Gamache, the protagonist, enters the village church which oddly is named St. Thomas:

He'd been in St Thomas's often enough and on this fine morning knew light from an old stained glass window would be spilling out onto the gleaming pews and wooden floor. The image wasn't of Christ or the lives and glorious deaths of saints, but of three young men in the Great War. Two were in profile, marching forward. But one was looking straight at the congregation. Not accusing, not in sorrow or fear. But with great love as though to say this was his gift to them. Use it well.
Beneath were inscribed the names of those lost in the wars and one more line.
They Were Our Children.

Here is a fictional story about an imaginary village that somehow manages to capture a truth that eludes my local elected officials. Remembering our dead is important. Remembering why they died is paramount. Remembering that they loved us makes sense of it all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Yesterday, Richard and I went to Arlington National Cemetery to witness the end of the Run for the Fallen, a relay that started in California in June and crossed more than 4,000 miles, a mile for every one who had died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Afghanistan and Iraq. The runners left a marker at every mile commemorating the individual servicemember. Thomas's is somewhere in Colorado. Because there is no running inside of Arlington, the run part actually ended at the Metro stop entrance, just outside the gates. There was a very touching speech from the back of a pickup truck by the young man who organized this (and I really hope there is video available somewhere, there were cameras) who described this event as a living memorial. I liked that. There were tears. There was no pontificating. In this most political of years, there were no politicians.

We all walked into Arlington, to Section 60, where the brother and father of one of the fallen spoke briefly, and a Marine in uniform played Taps. And then we visited graves, leaving
flowers and stones on the markers. Richard and I left carnations on Michael Bordelon's grave, and then visited others whose names we've come to know, or whose parents we have met. Nicholas Ziolkowski and David Branning, Marylanders who died the same week as Thomas. T.J. Barbieri who lived in Montgomery County--T.J.'s anniversary was August 23rd and his marker was surrounded by flowers and pictures. Steven Auchman who was killed in Mosul two days before Thomas. Others whose names we recognized and whose stories we had heard.

It's a difficult thing to do, visiting Section 60. Too many young men and women who could have been friends. Too many grieving families.

Anyway, I encourage any of you reading this to explore the website of Run for the Fallen: They have links to other memorial sites and I spent some time last night looking through them. And if any of the organizers read this, Thank You guys.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

My oldest daughter Anna got married last weekend, 08/08/08, on the Assateague National Seashore. It was beautiful and sad in a way: Thomas was not there, but his friend Christina was, and his folding chair came with us too. I think this chair had been to Iraq with him: it's khaki colored, one of those sling chairs with a cup holder in the armrest. His aunt Holly sat in it to watch the wedding and I stood to watch from the side so I could see everything. At the reception, Maria toasted her sister, and alluded to her brother, but this was Anna's day and sadness was not allowed to stay.


August 2005 came to a close. Pat, the woman who had worked at G Street and had given me such wonderful advice and support from the beginning, retired at the end of June so I was on my own now in learning how to cope with loss. Juli Werner had talked me into doing a race to benefit wounded soldiers (a part of the Wounded Warrior project) that was to be held on November 12. Juli would kayak and I would run, carrying Thomas's dogtags. I've talked about this before (my post of 10/17/06) so I won't go into it again but I did have some concerns about this. I was not going to be able to train, even half-heartedly, for some of the time because I had to have some minor surgery in September, and at the beginning of October we were going to be gone for nearly a week to Washington state and Fort Lewis. Still, the run was not that long and no one would have laughed if I had to walk part of it (which in the end I did for a bit but still had a decent time (for me!)).

School started for Matthew. It must be said that this was not going smoothly from an academic point of view. He was never that enthusiastic about school, but this was definitely a step down, and has continued to be a problem, though it must also be said that the issue is homework. Thomas never did homework either so this was not terribly surprising. I had decided to back off from PTA involvement as the previous year had not gone well for various reasons and because I was now taking care of my mother-in-law: she was living near us but not driving so I was taking her to doctor's appointments and the grocery store (and I still am!) and there are only so many hours in a day.

Friday, August 01, 2008

One of the things I've observed since the beginning is that unexpected things keep popping up. People appear with a story, or a reporter asks a question, or someone sends a memorial item they have made (quilts and afghans, a candleholder, a painting). Some of them add to the information we have and others just offer comfort.

So, the last two days have been like that. Yesterday we received a packet from the Department of the Army: Army Long Term Case Management office. In a way it was self-generated because when they made the initial contact, I asked them for the paperwork to get a Gold Star Pin so we could apply for the Maryland Gold Star Family license plates for our cars. Yesterday the paperwork came, along with a pin.

One thing I had not expected to receive in this was the final Report of Casualty. We had copies of the interim report, which came immediately and allowed us to get access to Thomas's bank account and other things. On there, box 4f which is labelled "circumstances" says "Determination Pending." The final report has instead: "Hostile Action: Gunshot wound of the head, per DD Form 2064 (Certificate of Death)." Even though I knew that was the cause of death, seeing it in official print was a bit of a shock. Nearly four years later, I still avoid thinking about the cause of death. This will sound odd or something, I don't know what. But, when we got his body a week after his death, there really was no visible wound. This may be a tribute to the mortuary art, or he may have been hit in the back of the head (though I don't see how this is possible, given descriptions of the incident from those who were there). Maybe I'll just be grateful for now and look for more information later.

When Richard came home yesterday, I showed him the packet and the Report of Casualty of course. He knew I had asked for this. He saw the pin, a lapel pin with the gold star on a purple background surrounded by a wreath of laurel, and took it out of its box. And then he pinned it to his blazer lapel. He did ask if I wanted it, but I have other pins.

Today an offer of a prayer shawl in Thomas's memory appeared in the mail. Though I think of prayer shawls as a more Jewish aid to worship, this seems to be from a Catholic group which is local to us. I know there is a movement out there to do these, but I don't know much more than that--I guess it's time to find out more! I'm a little surprised to get this nearly four years after the event, but perhaps this group did not form until recently.

Still, as I started this post, things keep turning up. Who know what tomorrow may bring?