Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's only a few hours later and, apparently, Secretary of Defense Gates has decided to allow some press access to the returning fallen at Dover. I guess we'll see how this plays out, what the families do and how the rest of the public reacts.

Updating this again: the families will be allowed to decide whether the press is allowed to photograph the flag draped coffins: "WASHINGTON – Families of America's war dead will be allowed to decide if news organizations can photograph the homecomings of their loved ones, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday." (In the way of the internet, I already have lost the original site of the quote, though I think it is from an AP story I saw on Here is a link to a more complete story:


Things that I want to write about keep drifting by--my brain seems to be having a hard time holding on to one thought long enough to get it written down. The world's theme this week though is press accessibility to Dover AFB when the fallen are returned. There have been articles in the Washington Post and the Washington Times, and yesterday there was a story on NPR's Tell Me More about it as well. Perhaps coincidentally, HBO recently showed a movie based on the true story of the Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl who escorted home the body of a fallen Marine, Lance Corporal Chance Phelps. I watched the trailer this morning, and some clips of interviews with Chance Phelps' family, Michael Strobl, Kevin Bacon (who played Strobl), and others involved in the making of this film. Not to be done without a box of Kleenex at hand. has the clips I watched I think (mine came by way of an e-mail). I feel drained, and it's only 11 a.m.

And for those who are wondering, I don't really know what I think about showing the flag-draped caskets at Dover. I know that Thomas was intensely private and probably would have objected to being on display, at least that was true before he left for Iraq. I also know that he told us that if he was dead, whatever we did about his body and burial was up to us. On the other hand, I do not want him to be forgotten, nor do I want his sacrifice and the sacrifice of his fellow servicemembers to be dismissed or tucked away behind a curtain. In the end, perhaps Section 60 at Arlington and all of the other graves scattered throughout our country are reminder enough.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Our trip to Fort Lewis, October 2005. Soldiers, a wife, Anne, us. (No names for those whose permission I do not have.)

I went to a funeral yesterday for an old friend, old in both senses. We met Rodney a couple of months after Thomas was born: he died late last week at age 80, the victim of Alzheimer's and all of the physical problems that come with it. Somewhere I have a picture of Rodney holding a microphone for Thomas (who looks about 7 or 8) at a parish celebration. Losing Rodney and the others who have died since Thomas's death makes me feel as if the landscape is being thinned out. Fewer people who know what happened, fewer people who knew Thomas. The last time I saw Rodney was at Thomas's wake: he knew why he was there and he was very distressed. It was hard.

Rodney is buried at Gate of Heaven cemetery, a couple of hundred yards from Thomas.


Michael Yon. He is an independent journalist who embedded with Deuce Four in Mosul, I think in April or May of 2005. Michael is a blogger and, nearly daily, posted riveting descriptions and photographs of the activities of the Stryker brigade in that late spring and summer. I read these entries avidly (they were linked from the StrykerNews website) because it was the closest I could come to knowing what Thomas had experienced, however briefly, in combat. Michael also talked a lot about the men he came to know, including LTC Erik Kurilla. LTC Kurilla's wife had written to us after Thomas died so I knew Thomas had (in some sense!) worked for him. I was thus more than a bit horrified to read an entry in late July, describing combat operations in the streets of Mosul which resulted in a fairly serious injury to Erik. This blog entry included photographs, some included in the book that Michael published this past year. The dust cover of Moment of Truth in Iraq has the most famous picture Michael took in Mosul: a soldier holding a child who has died, the lightning patch of the Strykers showing clearly on his sleeve. I was confronted by that photo in the Washington Times one morning, so infinitely sad and also so very human.

So. As a result of faithfully reading this blog, I actually knew a little of Erik Kurilla's story when we met him at Fort Lewis that day. He is very tall (6'5" or 6") and dashing, despite the crutches he was still using as a result of his injury in August, a little over two months earlier. He knew who we were, he told us more about the incident in which Thomas was killed, we even talked about the other soldiers whose stories I knew as a result of the StrykerNews forum.

Michael Yon continued to blog from Iraq as an independent journalist, eventually turning those blog entries into a book. One day in 2007, I stumbled across an entry in which he talked about having found a prayer card with the words from "Be Not Afraid", a song we use frequently in Mass (I think the words are from Isaiah). Thomas knew this song: I started crying when I saw it and in fact it's been nearly impossible to sing it ever since then (perhaps not coincidentally, it was used at Rodney's funeral yesterday).

Thank you, Michael.

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