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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