Marsh Index      NEXT

Voices From The Garden of Stone - Part II - 9 March 2006


By Don R. Marsh


The white marble markers over the graves in the Arlington National Cemetery were fully illuminated by the full moon as the forgotten "Voices" from this Garden of Stone were assembling for the nightly forum to discuss the new arrivals from the day's ritual of the return to the earth on this hallowed ground reserved for fallen warriors.

It wasn't too long ago that the "Voices" of the Stones were warning of this impending danger to come, but no one in the White House or on the Hill would listen. These "Voices" from the past wars know all too well from experience that when the war clouds appear on the horizon that soon after American troops would be sent around the world to become global policemen, paying the price once again, as it were - defending individual freedoms for the world.

The Stones' prophesy of men going to war again was made several years ago, just as the events in the world were brewing and about to explode in a mid-east conflict. The liberal press was against our entry into endangered foreign affairs, but after the events of 9/11 the die was cast and the Pentagon began burning the midnight oil. The war room machine was getting into high gear -- without a planned long range viable exit strategy.

It was just a matter of time before we heard the words, "Shock and awe" as the heavens unloaded massive bomb loads over Baghdad. The cruel regime quickly collapsed in the face of overwhelming forces and the President celebrated his victory aboard an air craft carrier; but not without the loss of life.

The liberal press soon referred to one of the first soldiers' bodies returned home as "A Casualty of War" and began a daily press score card of those killed and wounded. Not to honor those whose lives were lost, but to mount a political attack on our government's policy of going to war. So the soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors and coastguards lost in battle were now just figures on the national press scoreboard. That is a helluva way to show respect for those who volunteered to defend freedom; including freedom of the press. Corporal Patrick Tillman, with a successful career in professional football, when he heard the call to arms and enlisted to become an Army Ranger. While serving in Afghanistan, in the Special Ops, he became a victim of friendly fire from his own troops and died in the barren desert, another Casualty of War.

When then Secretary of Defense Les Aspins, under President Clinton, denied Chief of Staff General Powell's request for tanks and armored vehicles as a critical part of Task Force Ranger's needed fire power for counteracting the AK-47/Kalashnakovs they would face on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, it stacked the deck against the 150 men from Bravo Company, 175th Rangers Regiment, Army Special Operations Command. It resulted in 18 members of Bravo being killed on 3 October 1993, including Army Master Sergeant Gary I. Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall D. Shughart; both were awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously for their heroic actions above and beyond. Each was given the final tribute paid to a hero. All 18 men lost in this expedition were dedicated as Casualties of War; whereas the error made at the Command level should have been described as a Tragedy of War. Once again, the result of career politicians making inappropriate military command field decisions.

One of the Stones was offering his opinion tonight; he wasn't surprised at the number of new arrivals, saying, "These are the risks we take, this is what we do - we are soldiers. We volunteered." Although it was just another routine day for those Honor Guard soldiers firing the volley of three rounds over the graves as the flag was being folded and the bugler sounding Taps. The men participating in the Arlington burial detail would undergo change daily, but the emotional toll on the families who attend the ceremony would continue in a never ending stream. These are the true victims of war. As Ernest Hemingway said, "War is a crime. Ask the Infantry and ask the dead."

"A Casualty of War." Cold unemotional empty words to those in each one of the families left behind - take the old gunny Sergeant from Camp Pendleton, with 17 years of service and looking forward to that retirement check in a few short years of a thousand bucks a month for life. Now his wife and two kids, attending high school in Oceanside, would soon be forced to immediately vacate the government quarters they occupied on base and pull up stakes to find a new home. Property being high as it is in southern California prevents widows and their children in relocating in nearby towns; so decisions have to be made whether to either return to Podunk Ville, Arkansas or try to find a cheap rental in town to struggle to survive on a meager widow's pension. In reality, the Casualty becomes plural for the families left behind.

In the mean time, those in Congress are wrangling over the dilemma whether to bring the troops home now as versus those who state the opposite - stay the course. All well and good, except for the latter, none of those making the decisions for our troops to stay for an undetermined term will be those in the killing zone risking death daily by IEDs and sniper fire. If the troops return now, we lose face in the Mideast because we had to cut and run. If we stay, the number of those Killed In Action, already exceeding well past 2,000, will undoubtedly increase as each day goes by. If the troops stay, and as it appears they will, more Casualties of War will continue to mount and the detail at Arlington will continue to maintain the task of honoring these men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Today we have in excess of 130,000 troops stationed in Iraq. Sixty plus years after the end of World War II and we still have forces in Germany (not to mention the DMZ of Korea) and more recently Kosovo and Bosnia. We get involved easily, but the politicians bungle the job of getting us out - with honor, as in the case of Vietnam. Then the returning veterans were spit upon by the public - in some left wing parts of the country as an unwarranted injustice.

The powder keg is ready to erupt into civil war in Iraq between the militant religious factions, expanding beyond borders, with or without American troops present.

The Arlington Honor Guards walking their posts at night cannot hear the "Voices", but if they could they would know that the Stones, the unseen ghosts, are not pleased with the decisions being made up on the Hill. Honorable men and women elected to make the right choices are often swept up in the politics of the nation and furthering their own re-election position; rather than taking into due consideration the life and death of the men and women sent into war zones.

None other than General Eisenhower on March 12, 1943, wrote his son, John, then a West Point Cadet, "Modern war is a very complicated business and governments are forced to treat individuals as pawns." Ike lost 2,715 men Killed In Action, 8,978 wounded and 6, 528 missing after the Kasserine Pass, North Africa debacle. Those pawns were designated Casualties of War. But as Irving Cobb said, "If the dead could return to life, there would be no more wars."

The former Marine Sergeant in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton was on his third tour of duty after having been previously wounded in the Fallujah house to house fighting early on, but the odds caught up with him while being the first man in the door on a raid looking for insurgents. Destiny placed him in the wrong place at the wrong time. The blast from a RPJ was the last flash he saw on this earth; just three months shy of his rotation date. He had joked with his buddies that he loved the Corps and was determined to reenlist to become a "lifer" and do the twenty. He was among those laid to rest today. Soon after the flag was folded and presented to his young widow, the family had departed, the firing squad marched off, the bugle was cased and silent, the grave workers prepared to lower the cement box into the hallowed ground for the final act of the ceremony. The end of his life on earth was recorded as a numbered entry in the ledger of the Arlington Records. Another Casualty of War.

The silent witnesses, the Stones, took note that this young Sergeant was more than just A Casualty of War; he had now become one of them and soon his silent "Voice" would add to their growing numbers in a plea to the politicians on the Hill, hoping they find a conscientious solution - for now, until the next one.

The Arlington Cemetery is a never ending saga. The nuclear winds of war are beginning to swirl among the sands in far off places -- where Farsi is spoken. To be continued. Shalom.

"Fear no more the heat o' the sun, nor furious winter's rages; Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust." William Shakespeare in Cymbeline

Publication or reproduction, in part or whole, is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family Trust.

Return to Top

Marsh Index      NEXT