On the subway to Brooklyn, I thought, "Dont go. Get off the train and flee. Pull a Runaway Bride number. My palms were wet and I could feel my heart pounding.
I had received a list of the speakersall accustomed to standing in front of an audience and doing something Ive avoided my entire life. The list included Jonathan Tasini, Hillarys opposition, running as the Progressive Democrat for the US Senate, Debra Sweet, National Coordinator of World Cant Wait, and Charles Lenchner of Progressive Democrats of America. There was my name among this group. Just seeing it terrified me.
But Id said yes to Cindy and I was determined to speak for my nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Comley, killed in Iraq on August 6, 2005. I didnt write a speech. Instead, I took the op-ed article I wrote the week we received the news of Chases death. I needed it as a safety-net. If no words came out of my mouth, I would look down at this piece and read.
Journalist and host of RadioNation on Air American Radio, Laura Flanders, was the MC. She and I chatted. Also, Jonathan Tasini talked with me, trying to build my confidence and even offered me his earlier spot on the program. I accepted, but Ms. Flanders didnt receive that information and, then, called on an unexpected speaker, Congressman Major R. Owens who represents the 11th Congressional District of New York. That pushed me down the program another ten minutes and I could feel my stomach knot.
Finally, I was introduced. I walked to the podium and I did it.
I want you to know that I am panic-stricken to be here today. Im not a public speaker. When Cindy Sheehan e-mailed and asked me to do this, I hit reply and wrote yes. Then I thought, What have you done? Im doing this for Chase and for all those who can no longer speak for themselves. If I collapse, just push me over to the side of the room.
If this had been later in the day, Id have had a glass of red wine before comingsomething I do everyday at four in the afternoon when I call my mother. We each have a glass and chat. Weve always called this happy hour. We dont call it that anymore.
Im here to talk with you about my nephew, Chase Comley. He was bright, funny, and athletic. When he graduated from high school, he received the Spartan Award for best all round. And he was bad. He was bad in that way that women love and men try to emulate. He had so many friends.
I have my favorite picture of Chasethe one his father printed on the shirt I wore to the Cindy Sheehan Peace Rally in DC. I printed two of these to pass around today. (Then I unbuttoned my sweater and showed the shirt I had worn underneath the sweater and left the sweater open as I continued).
Chase was 16 when his parents divorced and, probably, of the four siblings was the most affected. He was the youngest. After high school, he started college, but couldnt discipline himself to study and was partying hard and womanizing. He began to be disgusted with himself and started talking about joining the military for discipline. We were appalled. The war had already begun and most of us had been opposed from the time Bush began to talk about the invasion. No weapons of mass destruction had been found, but Chase seemed determined. My father suggested the Coast Guard, the Navy, something safer than the Marines, but Chase was impressed by the Marine bravado, the few, the proud, and he said things like why settle for second best when you can be first.
A couple of months later, he joined. He deployed for Iraq in March of 2005. He would have been 22 in November. He would have returned home in October. He was killed on August 6th.
On August 7th, five months ago today, my phone rang early morning. I answered and my sister said, Chase was killed in Iraq last night.
My sister said that Mark, our brother had called her that morning. He was working about three hours from home when the Marines pulled up and his fiance' saw them. She called him and told him she had a terrible migraine and needed him to come home. He entered the house and within a minute, the doorbell rang and he knew. He stayed up all night. Hed had diarrhea for months and had seen a doctor who told him it was nerves. Hed cried all night when Chase deployed. The week Chase died was the same week those soldiers from Ohio were killed and we all felt a heightened anxiety. My mother and I talked about it. Oddly enough, my niece, Chases sister had stopped to visit with my parents on Saturday and my mother said to her, Do you understand the danger Chase is in? We didnt know that Chase was already dead.
My sister said to my brother when he called her, Oh, Mark, what can I do for you?