While spending my usual Sunday morning, watching the news shows on television, I found myself in total empathy with the parents of the slain college students at Virgina Tech. Having lost a child of my own a year ago, I understand intimately the pain which they now must bear. I thought of how nice it is that some find solace in speaking to the nation which mourns with them about their lost sons and daughters via the television interviewers. Also, according to the news, grief counselors are being sent in to help the students and families to deal with this intense grief.
Then, as it is wont to do, the news moved on to the war in Iraq and so did my thoughts. Without taking a thing from the sympathy for the Blacksburg parents, I realized that these young people who are dying in Iraq are contemporaries of the college kids. Who grieves for them? While we have lost a hundred children in that conflagration for every student who fell prey to the mad gunner, the nation mourns only those who were presumably safe from harm while those who fell in service to our country are hidden from our sight and rarely mentioned by name unless they qualify as "heroes". They fly home under cover of night and then are treated as baggage on commercial flights until they are taken to their home town. Their family, friends, and neighbors turn out for their funeral with none taking notice except, perhaps, Rev. Fred Phelps and his little band of ghouls. The funeral over, the families go home to deal with their own desolation as they reflect on the life that was lost and the hopes and dreams that will never come to fruition. They will forever wonder why.
But these loving families are forbidden from learning the specifics of the untimely death which their child suffered. Only rarely are any details given and then only after a long, painful investigation by people who are ill-eqipped for the task. Cindy Sheehan went to Washington to ask why. She was told, in essence, "Your son is dead. Accept it and move on!" Government officials and their partisans regard her as a mentally ill person and treat her as a pariah. The Tillmans have been more fortunate in that they did uncover the fact that their son fell to "friendly fire" which was covered up in order to provide the warmongers with a famous "hero". When all is said and done, these two families may be more responsible for bringing this war to an end than will any other factor.
As the youngest child in a large family, I saw five of my seven older brothers march off to war against "Hitler and Tojo" in the company of many others from our community. The pain of missing family members was a common one as almost every home wore the placard of stars in a window, denoting the home of a member of the armed services, blue for a stateside deployment, silver for one serving overseas, and gold for one who had fallen. I recall all too well the sense of emptiness on departure and the tension that pervaded the home when a "missing in action" notice was received. The sight of a Western Union delivery boy brought the neighbors to learn which son had disappeared and all prayed that he had been captured rather than perishing. A military car at the curb brought neighbors with food and sympathy and the whole community joined in the mourning. There was an article in the local newspaper with a photograph and a letter of condolence from the President.
During that war, the soldiers who did not volunteer were drafted and the burden was borne by all. Now, with the "all-volunteer army", the fear and grief fall upon young wives and small children in most cases as the fighting is done by a few who are having their service extended until it must seem to them that the only way home is "in a box". When they are killed, they are little more than numbers on a tote board and little grief is known outside their intimate circle. Their survivors will not have the comfort that is brought about by televised funeral services, on-camera interveiws, and the knowledge that the whole nation is sharing their grief.
It simply does not seen fair, during this Sunday morning contemplation, that while the sky-scrapers are going up in New York City as a memorial to the fallen in the World Trade Center and we mourn the loss of the lives and potential of the students at Virginia Tech, several more young men and women will lay down their lives in Iraq in what seems as senseless an endeavor as whatever the troubled youth was trying to prove in Blacksburg. If the citizens of the United States cannot stop our government from hiding them away like so many little dirty secrets, we should at least be allowed to mourn them.