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July 24, 2005

Scoring Political Points On The Dead

I have been thinking on this story for a long time. Trying to fathom what kind of solace this ghoul can possibly have thought she was bringing to the bereaved:

The family of a Marine who was killed in Iraq is furious with Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll for showing up uninvited at his funeral this week, handing out her business card and then saying "our government" is against the war.

The Lieutenant Governor found the celebration of Holy Eucharist a good time to hand out her business card and score political points on the Bush administration. Staff Sgt. Joseph Goodrich was in no position to rebut any of her talking points, being unfortunately incapable of dialogue at the time.

0712goodrich-b.jpg Like so many Marines, Joseph Goodrich was a Pennsylvanian. A Marine Reservist, he didn't have to be in Iraq. But then none of the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, contrary to the overheated rhetoric so common on Capitol Hill, "have" to be there. They are neither idiots nor automatons nor the helpless victims of a duplicitous administration. They are leaders of men: our own greatest generation in the making.

Staff Sgt. Goodrich was a second-generation Marine. In a letter home shortly before a mortar round took his life, he wrote of his feelings for his country. A seemingly-outmoded notion of giving something back:

"...Looking at all the headstones with flags in front of them, I started thinking about who they were, how they lived, how they died and what they did for me," Goodrich wrote in the letter his wife received Friday.

"I swore to myself that I would not let them down. They sacrificed and gave to me something that I could never repay, freedom."

It was to be the last letter Amy would ever receive from her husband. Something to be laid away, eventually, with the medals, the faded photographs, the things he used every day, personal items that still bear his scent, however faintly. Precious things.

I cannot imagine what Amy is feeling right now. Or in a way I suppose I can begin to, for I have lived through it in my imagination a million times, as every military wife has. I've watched my mother-in-law struggle through it. The loss. The numbness. But the reality must be so much worse than any imagining.

What comfort did the Lt. Governor think to offer Amy?

Even if you assume - and it takes an almost willful suspension of disbelief to do so - that she genuinely thought the family might share her anti-war sentiments, what possible comfort could it be to the Goodrich family to hear that the State of Pennsylvania disapproved of the cause for which her native son had just given his life?

"Yes Amy...this was all so unnecessary. Such a waste. War never solves anything and anyway what we're doing over there is morally wrong. You do realize that our government doesn't support the war - I really don't know what your husband was thinking, bashing off half-way around the world. Vote Democrat next time and hopefully this sort of travesty can be avoided. Here's my card, dear."

rotc.jpg People like the Lt. Governor just don't understand the military. They don't understand the concept of duty, or love of country. Of seeing yourself as part of a larger continuum: a part of history. We live with history - we live with the reminders of past battles, the sacrifices of past generations. And they are a constant reminder to us that we have a duty to give something back. That is something I think much of America has forgotten, or just doesn't like to think about anymore.

John Donovan has a lovely post (if I may apply such an unmasculine term, but John is a hardened veteran of assault by flouncing petticoat) about Army towns. The Lt. Governor might want to read it and get a clue. His ROTC photo reminded me of a somewhat painful and funny growing-up story about the clash between military and civilian values. It involves my two then-teenaged sons.

A few years back, we rented a lovely home in the high desert in California. It was quite luxurious by military standards. It was in a tony neighborhood, it had a wonderfully-landscaped yard and a pool. Off our bedroom there was a pergola with Palm Springs-style misters to cool you off on a hot desert night. We even had willow trees and a patch of grass (what luxury in the desert!). My two sons went to a civilian high school. For once, we didn't have to live in utilitarian military housing - I had wallpaper and real wood cabinets and Spanish tile floors and had planted bougainvillea vines everywhere. We had wonderful parties and for once I thought, "Wow. This is what it must be like to be a civilian."

My sons were still in Boy Scouts, but they were getting a bit old for it. They were now the troop leaders, so they were in charge of planning activities for the younger boys. They still enjoyed camping out, but some of the other activities - and the responsibilities - were wearing thin. Veterans Day rolled around, and the town had planned a huge parade. The troop leader decided the Scouts would lead the parade and provide the Color guard. As sons of a Marine it was presumed the boys would do a professional job.

My sons rebelled. The problem? They would have to march in front of their entire high school in their Scout uniforms. Now it hadn't particularly bothered them to go out camping in the desert and light stuff on fire and light off chain saws and do other manly things when no one knew they were Scouts. But they were new, and it was embarrassing for the girls (and guys) to see them in their Scout uniforms. Their high school was not the preppy kind. No one went to college. My kids were already too clean-cut as it was. And they were to be the color guard, marching in front of the War Veterans.

My husband and I really felt for them. Sixteen and thirteen are tough ages. Kids get beaten up and their school had a real problem with that. Shortly after we'd moved in a group of kids had beaten the stuffing out of a boy and left him in a drainage ditch. On the other hand, I'm kind of a tough Mom in one sense. I've always said you have to be yourself. People take you at your own valuation: if you can't stick up for who you are, no one will ever accept you. So I put my foot down: I told them the Veterans and the troop were counting on them to do their job. Even though it was embarrassing, they needed to complete the march with their heads held high.

And if they wanted to quit Scouts the next day, I wouldn't stand in their way. But as troop leaders, they should not be ashamed to march with their flag, nor to honor Veterans who had risked their lives to defend this nation. And if anyone gave them grief, that's what they should say. And if anyone gave them a hard time about being in Scouting, maybe they should point out that camping is a lot of fun and people who are so afraid of being mocked that they won't do something fun are really pretty lame.

Strangely enough, one or two guys kidded them, but it was pretty mild. And when my sons didn't get upset, they just melted away. Even more strangely, several guys actually came up to them and said they wished they had the guts to join - that it sounded like a lot of fun. And both of them ended up having plenty of friends (and my older son started dating his future bride) within a few months.

It's strange how often we run away from our history. We think it's boring or old-fashioned. We don't have time for it. As a young Marine wife in Quantico, and later when stationed at Annapolis, I used to like to include the retired Marine wives in our monthly wives functions. I found them far more fun than the younger wives - less stuffy, less inhibited once you got past surface manners, and full of life and intelligence and information. I'm not all that extroverted, but I loved to sit and listen to their tales of being newly-married: sharing apartments, struggling to make it on the tiny stipends young officers had back then. Dealing with unbearably-long separations during Vietnam and even World War II. After a talk with them, I always felt my burdens were light in comparison to what they were asked to shoulder. One of my dearest friends years ago was a general's wife I used to visit. Her husband had died long ago, but her mind and her spirit were undimmed by the years. She has remained an inspiration to me throughout our time in the Marine Corps.

I don't think people like Catherine Baker Knoll can begin to understand the feeling of commitment, nor the sense of history the lives in the hearts of military folks.

I hope for the sake of this country that it never dies out.

* Should you wish to opine on the subject of Lt. Gov. Baker Knoll's behavior, the ever-thoughtful Blackfive has provided the means.

Posted by Cassandra at July 24, 2005 07:11 PM

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When I first heard about this, my initial reaction was that it was typical of the left, using anything and everything in an attempt to advance their agenda...they have no common decency, nor shame. The more I thought about it, the more furious I became, not least because it happened in MY state.

I'm ashamed for PA...

Posted by: camojack at July 25, 2005 09:07 AM

The Left has tried to get a lot of mileage out of George Bush's failure to attend military funerals. So, this is what they believe should be done?

Posted by: MathMom at July 25, 2005 09:35 AM

Great post!!! I am a Marine wife and a Marine (reservist) mom so I could really relate to it.

From what I've read lately about the harpy in question, she has a serious foot in mouth addiction.
It's bad enough for the guv that rumors say he is looking for a way to dump her before 2008. He might have his reason right here.

Posted by: Carrie at July 25, 2005 09:57 AM

I hope she sues the State of Pennsylvannia and that the National Guard goes on strike about the working conditions...oh that's right. The civilians can organize and strike, but the military can't.

Right on the money about duty. I have told the same type of things to my kids. I think though that your sons were well enough known for no one to really give them any grief about their part in the parade.
Most kids think the USMC is wicked cool anyway.

Posted by: Cricket at July 25, 2005 10:02 AM

I saw that story over the weekend. Talk about tactless, political pandering!

I also saw this story:


I found this even more appalling.

Posted by: JannyMae at July 25, 2005 01:11 PM

I'd be in jail!


Posted by: JarheadDad at July 25, 2005 02:38 PM

Even my normally impassive spousal unit was pretty disgusted about this, JHD. And he normally greets anything I tell him with the Hairy Eyeball of Cynicism.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 25, 2005 02:45 PM

Cricket, over the years I've made them do a number of 'uncool' things. Mostly because I just don't believe it's healthy for kids to get their self esteem from what their peers think of them. Kids don't know anything about anything. They're too young.

I made a lot of mistakes as a parent, but one thing I really think I did right is this: I taught both those boys to rely on their own good sense. Every time I made them go against what was popular and do what was right, they learned that it didn't kill them, and not only that but whether or not other people understood (and some didn't) other people respected them for having the courage to go against the crowd.

Personally I think it made them better people. And sometimes what makes you a better person is doing something hard, or painful, or embarrassing and learning that it's not the end of the world. And I think it's better to learn that kind of lesson at home, while Mom and Dad are there to give you a hug and at least there is someone who understands, even if your friends don't, always.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 25, 2005 02:50 PM


Posted by: Cricket at July 25, 2005 09:49 PM

MathMom: I had similar thoughts as well regarding the slur against the President for not attending funerals.

Hm. I think you're being much too harsh to ghouls with your comparison, Cassandra. This politician is more of a lich, IMHO.

Posted by: Patrick Chester [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 26, 2005 12:46 AM

A low low in politics ... though now she denies the anti-war comment


Posted by: Frodo at July 26, 2005 09:56 AM

I don't see why a Lieutenant Governor would be unwelcomed at a military funeral. I mean, she was a commissioned officer, right?

Posted by: KJ at July 27, 2005 04:31 PM

Eddie Rendell:"Nyah see...you don't show up at Marines funerals to make deals see...You know that isn't "patriotic"see...we are supposed(sic)support the troops see...Why did you do dat see...?Baker-knoll :" Eddie, I'm sorry,I must have forgotten my manners,I know you have gone out of your way to help me control my mouth and to make me less Obnoxious to people when I meet them." E.R.:"No excuses see...You been warned to many times see...even the people in the party don't like you see...BN-I'm very sorry(sic)Eddie I mean it won't happen again."E.R.:"You bet it won't happen again see...when people screw me over publically like this see...you always are doing sumptin' stupid see...can't straighten up and fly right you damn tomato?BN-"Eddie I sincerely promise it won't happen again".What are you going to do with me?dames like you will ruin a man see...can't have that see...Eddie please listen..."Nyah,see...I've had about a enough of ya see...I do a got a plan y'know and it involves apologizing to that Marines family see...and after you do that see... we are going for a long drive see...and we are gonna talk about another embarrassing thing you done did to me see...I don't like it see...Nyah,Nyah,see...you even dont't know how to introduce a guy right... you introduce me at public functions as Edward G. Robinson see... Nothing against the G-man,but I don't like that see...this has been piling on for a long time see...don't get me wrong,Edward G.Robinson was a good actor and all but dija hafta introduce as him?Nyah,see...and for all de embarrasment you done caused me see... dats why we're going on this trip see...and there's a lodge and lake up north see...and we are headin' there see...and when we get there you will takin' a swim with the fishes see.....Cassandra,I'm sorry about this long post but I just had to do an impression of Edward G. Robinson here.He is one of my favorite actors and was a fine human being.I don't know if you missed this part but not only was her behavior extremely goche at this good man's funeral,but this old,adddled,and scatterbrained dame once introduced Eddie Rendell as Edward G.Robinson.Now that's bad!What a dis to the G-man.

Posted by: Lisa Gilliam at July 27, 2005 09:08 PM

I see a much deeper contempt, and a much greater hostility, for civilian authority among the military and their families, than I ever see for the military among civilians.

Posted by: Skip at July 16, 2006 01:07 PM


You obviously speak from deep, deep ignorance.

I have lived in the civilian community all my life, but have been the daughter of a Navy man and wife to a Marine. Military folks have far fewer civil rights than the civilians we protect, yet we display none of the reflexive contempt for civilian police, teachers, and civil authority. I can't count the number of times I've had civilians say to me, "We are so happy to have you all in our community. Your kids are a good influence on our children because they are polite and well behaved. They are sportsmanlike on and off the field."

And then there has been ignorant prejudice, like the friend I had to reason with. She said something ignorant to me about how she wouldn't let her daughter date a military guy.

I said to her, "Think about this: try saturating any other community with the sheer number of young, healthy hormone-laden 18-25 year old men and imagine that your crime rate wouldn't go through the roof. The military is so much BETTER behaved for the demographic than the comparable civilian demographic. But of course we get no credit."

She was a psychologist and she turned bright red and said, "You know, I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT.'

And I said, "No. You just never thought."

Posted by: Cassandra at July 16, 2006 01:55 PM

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