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August 10, 2005

The Long Goodbye

Last week Regina Simon honored the final wishes of her husband and ended a long, bittersweet journey that could only end in grief. I cannot imagine how much courage that must have taken. But I am not surprised, for she is a warrior's wife. And I am sure it was a decision made with love.

Sitting by his bedside in those final moments, she must have thought back on the life that was so soon to draw to a close:

Simon enlisted in the reserves a few months before he graduated from Madison's La Follette High School in 1990. He was mobilized for Operation Desert Storm but not deployed, Williams said.
Simon was a perfectionist, which frustrated the soldiers under him who were sometimes ordered to redo tasks, Kevin Mannel said.

"They all hated that about him, but then they all talked about how they wanted to be with him because they knew he'd take everything to the nth degree," he said.

The Simons were active in their church and coordinated the church's Sunday school classes.

"Chad was just devoted to the Bible, devoted to living out God's word," friend Matt Meyers said.

But though he was a 'perfectionist', Chad was generous with his time and had an impish sense of humor:

Kevin Mannel, Jeff Mannel's brother, said Simon was always eager to help friends, as well as play practical jokes on them.

Simon, who owned a painting business, came to Kevin Mannel's house as soon as Mannel's wife called to say she had encountered trouble painting her bathroom. He spent hours painting diamonds on the wall, just as she wanted, Kevin Mannel said.

And then, after carefully painting all those diamonds, he just as carefully painted the number "385" on one wall.

When she asked why, he told her with a laugh he would have charged her that much if she weren't a friend.

But all his care couldn't save Marine Staff Sergeant Chad Simon from an accident of fate. He was leading a patrol with the Mad Ghosts when he and three other Marines were hit by an IED:

When the Humvee he was in was hit by the bomb in November, he and the seat he was strapped into were blown 50 feet, Jeff Mannel said. A piece of shrapnel struck Simon, causing a severe brain injury.

Surgeons in Iraq removed two-thirds of his skull, according to updates Regina Simon posted to a friend's Web site. Simon remained unconscious from the time of the attack until he died.

Simon remained in Iraq for about two weeks until it was safe to move him. From there he went to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

While there, he received visits from President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

After Bush had his yearly physical at the facility, a soldier led him around the hospital so he could meet wounded troops. After visiting Simon's room, Bush "asked if every room was going to be this difficult," Jeff Mannel said.

I'll bet they were. It's hard to imagine the agony our families go through, not knowing what the prospects are for recovery, watching their once-proud warriors face debilitating injuries and the knowledge that for some of them, their warriors - or even their families - may never again be entirely whole. But amazingly, there is little self-pity or bitterness to be found. The snivelling despair and whiny, self-righteous posturing that infect the Op-Ed pages of the NY Times and the Washington Post are notably absent.

These people, like their counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, do not have time for such luxuries. They are fighting for their lives. And knowing he was a fighter, knowing how much he loved them, how much Regina must have wanted to hope during those eight long months when Chad never regained consciousness, that he would return to her:

When he was in the Iraq hospital, doctors would put the phone to his ear so Regina could talk to him. They noted that his heart rate rose when she did so, according to the updates.

By March, Simon was making eye contact, gripping objects and developing the muscles on his left side, according to the Mannels and the updates. But those hopeful signs turned out to be only automatic responses, they said.

"At first, you really want to believe he's looking at you because he wants to look at you, but it turns out they were reflexive responses," Jeff Mannel said.

In a March update, while Simon was at the Minneapolis VA hospital, Regina noted that their son would curl up with Simon to watch cartoons.

"Daddy's going to be better," Dylan told his mom, according to the update. "Then he'll play video games with me."

This is what every military wife fears in the emptiness of those endless deployment nights when the glowing numbers on the digital clock seem to take forever to tick over and the air suddenly seems unbearably hot and stifling. When the silence is deafening, unrelieved by the comforting sound of the man you love breathing softly next to you. Even though my husband hasn't deployed for a while, I sometimes wake in the middle of the night just to listen to the air moving slowly in and out of his lungs. Sometimes that is the most beautiful sound in the whole universe. Because I have seen too many scenes like this:

Six-year-old Dylan Simon's small fingers were engulfed in the white glove of the Marine who walked with him Monday morning to the front of a packed church filled with men in crisp, blue uniforms just like the one his father had worn.

Two tall Marines silently walked up to Dylan Simon. One knelt and presented the boy with the Purple Heart that his father, Chad, never got to see. Dylan listened to the Marine's soft words and accepted the medal given to American military members who are killed or injured in combat.

"It is our hope that as we give this to Dylan, he understands the respect we have for his father," said Maj. Adam Holton.

Such a long, sad goodbye. God bless you, Regina and Dylan.

Lance Cpl. Shane K. O'Donnell
Lance Cpl. Branden Ramey
Cpl. Robert Warns II

And their families.

Regina has requested that anyone wishing to honor Staff Sgt. Simon's memory do so by contributing to the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, a cause which, as you know, I heartily endorse. Something you may not know, by the way, is that Semper Fi assists both injured Marines and sailors.

This is something we can do to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And those who are still fighting the toughest foe many of them will ever face.

Semper Fidelis

Posted by Cassandra at August 10, 2005 08:02 AM

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My eyes and heart are full.

He is better now and in a better place.

We need a reminder of what this war means...to us all.

Posted by: Cricket at August 10, 2005 08:57 AM

I don't know why, but somehow this seemed appropriate.

To Chad Simon, gone but not forgotten:

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

Posted by: David at August 10, 2005 12:31 PM

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