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
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
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
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