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November 02, 2006

With Pen In Hand....

I left the warmth of my bed several hours before dawn as I always do and began the silent trek; down the dark hallway and into the kitchen, slicing noiselessly through the heavy quiet of a sleeping house, mindful of tails that go thump in the night. The chill of approaching winter crept up through the soles of my bare feet making me hurry as I prepared that steaming concoction that helps me hang on. Coffee brewed extra strong, precisely one and a half spoons of brown sugar, a splash of half and half: on a rainy autumn morning, who needs ambrosia? Surely this is nectar for the Gods.

Blessed relief.

The return journey is accomplished in the dark, one hand precariously balancing an overfull cup of coffee, the other fumbling madly in the pocket of my red bathrobe for my reading glasses which are right where they should be; on my head. As I round the corner, the Lidless Eye of Mordor glares at me balefully from just behind my leather office chair. "Someone" forgot to turn my laptop off last night.

with_a_bullet.jpgIt's time to make the donuts, I think as my fingers find the keyboard almost of their own volition. The photograph stops them dead in their tracks.

I sit back in my chair, stunned.

After a moment, feeling returns and I begin to read:

Petty Officer Third Class Dustin E. Kirby clutched the injured marine’s empty helmet. His hands were coated in blood. Sweat ran down his face, which he was trying to keep straight but kept twisting into a snarl.

He held up the helmet and flipped it, exposing the inside. It was lined with blood and splinters of bone.

“The round hit him,” he said, pausing to point at a tiny hole that aligned roughly with a man’s temple. “Right here.”

Petty Officer Kirby, 22, is a Navy corpsman, the trauma medic assigned to Second Mobile Assault Platoon of Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines. Everyone calls him Doc. He had just finished treating a marine who had been shot by an Iraqi sniper.

“It was 7.62 millimeter,” he continued. “Armor piercing.”

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the bullet, which he had found. “The impact with the Kevlar stopped most of it,” he said. “But it tore through, hit his head, went through and came out.”

He put the bullet in his breast pocket, to give to an intelligence team later. Sweat kept rolling off his face, mixed with tears. His voice was almost cracking, but he managed to control it and keep it deep. “When I got there, there wasn’t much I could do,” he said.

Then he nodded. He seemed to be talking to himself. “I kept him breathing,” he said.

The scene is painted for us vividly and it is both compelling and heart wrenching. Not depicted so vividly though, in fact curiously omitted from this otherwise meticulous account is what must have followed afterwards. "Wow - can we get of shot of your bloody hand holding the bullet? That will make great copy."

It doesn't sound as though Petty Officer Kirby was thinking too clearly that day. But this is hardly surprising. One imagines him gripped by strong and conflicting emotions that aren't hard to understand in a man struggling to cope with a never ending parade of death and gruesome injuries.

War. Hell.

Kirby hasn't given in to the numbness yet, but it wears you down after a while. It burns away the niceties, the petty politenesses, the empty social conventions which no longer seem meaningful in an arena where one side doesn't play by the rules. Petty Officer Kirby is getting angry now. He is emotional:

He looked at Lance Cpl. Matias Tafoya, his driver, and raised his voice. It was almost a shout. “When I told you that I do not let people die on me, I meant it,” he said. “I meant it.”

“If I had gone with him,” he said, and glanced to where the helicopter had flown away, over the line of date palms at the end of a field. His voice softened. “But I’m not with him,” he said.

He turned, faced a reporter and spoke loudly again. “In situations and times like this, I am bound to start yelling and shouting furiously,” he said. “Don’t think I am losing my mind.”

He held his bloody hands before his face, to examine them. They were shaking. He made fists so tight his veins bulged. His forearms started to bounce.

“His name was Lance Cpl. Colin Smith,” he said. “He said a prayer today right before we came out, too.”

“Every time before we go out, we say a prayer,” he said. “It is a prayer for serenity. It says a lot about things that do pertain to us in this kind of environment.”

Kirby's grief, his anger, make great copy too. But one can't help but wonder what the reporter who wrote this story was thinking? Did he at any time between taking reams of notes, selecting just the right shot (how many retakes did they get of that bloody hand?), carefully composing the story for his editor, stop to consider how his story would impact the family of Lance Corporal Colin Smith, the man whose blood still adorned Petty Officer Kirby's hand in that killer photo? Or is that sort of thing considered 'collateral damage' by the media: all part of the acceptable cost of doing business in the information age?

letters2.jpgMy mind travels back to another place and time, another war, a scene that to our modern eyes would seem almost unbearably bloody, savage, grim. And yet throughout that scene, interspersed with the grand diorama of man's inhumanity to man there is a grace, a dignity, an odd gentleness that tugs at the heart in quite another fashion:

Staunton, Va. Octo. 1st, 1862. My dear friend,

Having just returned from my imprisonment in Washington I hasten to offer my deepest sympathy in the sad bereavement which has fallen upon us in the death of yr. noble Husband. On the fatal day of his immolation upon the altar of Patriotism, I was guarded by hireling Yankees, in full view of our forces; compelled to witness their heroic sufferings, without being able to offer aid or consolation to my wounded and dying companions.

Late Saturday evening a prisoner was brought into our crowd, who informed us that Col. Baylor had fallen, mortally wounded, that day; while lifting the Colors of his his Regiment from the ground where they had fallen wh. the gallant color-bearer of the 5th.

I can not describe my emotions on receiving this intelligence. I felt as if my own brother had been stricken from my side. I [unclear: rebelled] at the Providence that denied me the privilege of being by his side and following his remains to their final resting place. I recalled the hours wherein we had [unclear: communed] together upon our beds; and remembered the deep anxiety which he always expressed in the success of my efforts to awaken a religious interest, in the regiment; how he cheered up, as I would tell him of one and another of his men, who had come to converse wh. me, on the subject of religion; and said wh. earnest emphasis "I would rather a revival of religion in my Regiment than to realize any temporal advantage whatever" This solicitude for the conversion of souls, manifested by word and acts, is one of the most satisfactory evidences of a change of heart. It is the first impulse of a renewed heart to long forthe conversion of others.

Another characteristic struck me as very indicative of a saving change. I never knew a man addicted to swearing that could refrain from profanity when provoked, without Divine assistance: and yet I have seen Col. Baylor under the most harrassing provocations, without yielding to the promptings of his old habit. He had completely mastered, at least, that habit.

Another soldier, we can imagine him sitting in his tent in the evening or perhaps propped with his back against a tree to catch the dying rays of the summer sun as it dips below the horizon, pens a note home to his beloved wife. She would have saved it, perhaps in her dower chest, tied in a neat bundle with a lavender ribbon. The corners, over time would be dogeared from too much handling; the ink perhaps smudged a bit in places from an errant teardrop or two; an exquisitely private moment stored in the attic of history for safekeeping:

July the 14th, 1861

Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure - and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows - when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children - is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


A shiver passes through me. This moment was not meant to be shared.

Did Sullivan come home to his beloved Sarah, or did he too fall in battle? Did she receive another letter, this time from his commander, bringing an end to love, an end to life, offering only the cold comfort of knowing he had died gloriously on the field of battle? And if he did, what images did she cling to in the lonely hours of the night when all hope seemed to have stolen away and the dark pressed in, suffocating her with its leaden caress? Whatever images haunted Sarah's dreams, one can be fairly certain she was not tormented by the specter of a bloody hand holding up a bullet that had passed through her husband's brain; nor, one suspects, by visions of pigs:

“The idea is to work with live tissue,” he said. “You get a pig and you keep it alive. And every time I did something to help him, they would wound him again. So you see what shock does, and what happens when more wounds are received by a wounded creature.”

“My pig?” he said. “They shot him twice in the face with a 9-millimeter pistol, and then six times with an AK-47 and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. And then he was set on fire.”

“I kept him alive for 15 hours,” he said. “That was my pig.”

“That was my pig,” he said.

He paused. “Smith is my friend.”

He looked at his bloody hands. “You got some water?” he said. “I want some water. I just want to wash my wedding band.”

But in our relentless quest for information, our take no prisoners refusal to sanitize this war there is no room for the feelings of grieving family members. We want to see the dead bodies, the caskets, the hideous wounds. We want names, dates, places, all the gory details.

Apparently, without graphic visual aids your average Times reader is too slow to understand that in battle enemy snipers kill the troops they aim at, too dense to grasp the idea that armor piercing bullets (who knew?) do in fact pass right through armor, not to mention brain tissue. And God help us, the public has a right to know the name of that young man whose skull was shattered by that twisted fragment of metal on the pages of the New York Times. We needed to see the bloody bullet, blunted by the impact with his helmet.

Otherwise, how would any reasonable person ever learn that in war, good men die?

Indeed. How would we ever learn of man's stunning capacity for casual brutality?

Posted by Cassandra at November 2, 2006 05:30 AM

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Im speechless

Posted by: Jane at November 2, 2006 08:29 AM

And if CNN had footage from the sniper's point of view, they'd run it, over awnd over.

The MSM has the distinct honor of being held in my lowest possible regard, lower even than our Congress.

Posted by: Daveg at November 2, 2006 08:46 AM

Cass, the brutality of war is speechless. But the reasons we fight are not. We protect that which is ours: The beautiful things of home, family, safety and security. The right to worship, to live and teach the pure love of Christ, to allow others access to that same knowledge and right to make those choices for themselves.

I saw a bullet in a bloody hand, and while I didn't want to look, I did. I know we will succeed in Iraq, but that is the price that has to be paid, and it is a terrible one. That is why there has to be opposition in all things.
How can we appreciate and love freedom when we don't know what it is? We cannot know how sweet joy is if we have not had sorrow.

I grieve for the loss of his life and the anguish of the medic. It is part of the ugliness of war, but in seeing it, I want to live my life to be worthy of the sacrifice.
I live my life to be reunited with loved ones too. We have to not just keep our eye on the temporal prize, but what it will do in the long run.

Forgive my ramblings here.

Posted by: Cricket at November 2, 2006 08:58 AM

That was horrifying, beautiful, heartbreaking and uplifting, I'm just overwhelmed with emotions.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Posted by: LindaSoG at November 2, 2006 09:03 AM

Let me see if I can express what is wrong with this:

They could have told this story without naming the wounded Corporal.

I was in the room when my father in law died. I saw his final hours, and it was not a pleasant sight. It took a very long time, because I have always been a person who has a hard time shutting out the pain of others, for those memories and images to fade from my brain. And I know from being with my husband on CACO that recently bereaved families often want to know everything they can find out about the death of their loved one: did he suffer? Was it quick? Could more have been done for him? Is someone at fault for his death? They will obsess over the same things over and over as they try to come to grips with their grief.

But that will not bring that person back, and while you don't want to overly shield them I am not sure what purpose was served by this article either, juxtaposing the images of the P.O. worrying that he should have gotten onto the chopper (of course he shouldn't - how could he tend to the rest of the wounded? but will a grieving family member be able to see it that clearly? Some will, some won't. Either way, it will eat at them.) And then there's the pig. Got to get those graphic images of the poor tortured pig in there.

Of course the alternative is that we let our corpsmen conduct "on the job training" doing a learn as you go flail-ex on our wounded servicemembers in the field. Yee-ha. Hopefully they'll pick up good techniques after the first hundred or so unlucky test cases, butcha can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, can you?

Was that information we needed to put in *this* article, where a grieving family member searching on the name of their fallen son would find it?

It's called situational awareness.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 09:11 AM

And I'm sorry. I know I am emotional about this. It's just that one thing that makes me madder than hell is when I think someone is getting picked on, and in this case I think that someone is the family. I tend to come out swinging - it is perhaps the only time I am ever aggressive.

But I could be all wet. Who knows.

And thank you, Linda :)


Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 09:13 AM

As far as Military.com is concerned, the Marine Corps has not released the LCPL's name.
That's really low.

That reporter's "right" to file a story does not supercede that family's right to know in a dignified, respectful way.

Posted by: Carrie at November 2, 2006 09:26 AM

Amen. THAT is a low blow and not one that the LMS should be allowed to get away with. Whatever happened to 'pending notification of family?'


Posted by: Cricket at November 2, 2006 09:58 AM

The "reporter" is one of the many who have grown up not connected to life and death reality. It (I wouldn't call it a man) has never seen consequences for its actions. Everything has been abstracted to at least one degree, and nothing has ever hit home.

I pity it -- for the discovery will come, sooner or later, that sometimes when stuff happens, there won't be a do-over, no one will care how noble your intentions were. Death or devastation will come anyway ... and all the "correct" words won't matter one bit. There won't be a rescue with time for the closing credits.

We have an entire generation whose majority has grown up like this. Blame TV, blame the loss of religion, blame rock and roll if you like (ever noticed how country western songs are about life and living and what happens, while R&R are about teen hormonal "love" ... still?). The cause may matter, in order to prevent it from happening again. The problem at hand is fixing it.

Posted by: Annlee at November 2, 2006 10:31 AM

Thanks Cassandra.

You're fighting the battle against apathy, coarseness, disgust and ignorance, and back again, from your laptop, through this weblog. By yourself, before dawn, at O-dark-thirty.

Last week I was traveling, and read Leon Uris' "Exodus". Strange that it was written 50 years ago, about the emergence of the State of Israel 60 years ago, and how, at times, poignantly apropo it is to this time. Sometimes the strife seems to harken to the same themes, through the passage of time.

Sullivan never made it home. But there was no ending to love for Sarah. Love...endures.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 2, 2006 12:09 PM

I remember the reading of that letter as being the most poignant moment in the Civil War series.
Reading that letter, even though it was written over 145 years ago, still leaves me in awe of the man who wrote it and a little envious of a woman who could inspire that kind of love.

Posted by: Carrie at November 2, 2006 12:13 PM

Didn't we just have this conversation about how there are too few embedded journalists, writers and photogs, who cover the war with the troops? I think this is an honest, compelling story about the corpsman who's doing amazing things to keep his marines alive.

I mean, with all due respect with the wounded man being a marine, do we really know exactly when this happened? Do we know perhaps the PAO/DOD allowed the NYT to use the marine's name? Do we know, for a fact, that maybe the corpsman perhaps said, "And look, here's the bullet from my marine and I did my best to keep him alive," and held it up. The contract photographer (meaning not a staffer, but a freelancer), Joao Silva, is as professional as they come. I cannot believe that under those circumstances, perhaps still being under fire, that he would say, "Hey, can you hold that up here again? I need to get a few more shots." I don't buy it. Google him and look at his work.

Yes, this is brutal and in-your-face. If there's anyone who questions our sacrifice there, here's a story an image that should help to put it to rest.

People complain that they don't get the REAL story from Iraq or Afghanistan, but for good or for bad, here it is.

Posted by: jpr at November 2, 2006 12:57 PM

My husband writes letters.

He is such a quiet man. I still have the letters he wrote to me when we were dating, and the ones from his first deployment to Okinawa. But in letters something used to open up. He writes beautifully. He even writes poetry sometimes. You would never know, to talk to him, what lies beneath that impassive surface.

I guess I did. It is what I fell in love with. But like most things about him it is not obvious.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 12:58 PM

Actually jpr I do know more about this than I can comment on.

And I chose to write about it. I'll leave it at that.

And hmmm...Joao Silva. Where have I heard that name before?

Oh yeah. He took that great shot of the insurgent firing on one of our soldiers.

I knew it would come back to me.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 01:03 PM

As I recall Ken Burn's series on the Civil War, Major Sullivan Ballou of Rhode Island was killed the day after he wrote that letter to his beloved Sara. I think the battle where he died was what he would have called First Bull Run--and what the soldier who killed him would have called First Manassas.

War is terrible in that not only men, but hopes and dreams are killed--and yet the country is fortunate to have its Major Ballous and Lance Corporal Smiths who willingly serve.

I read the Los Angeles Times story yesterday; and frankly I was surprised to see it in the paper. It's one of the few non Bush bashing, non Iraq is a disaster stories to appear in the Times in the last three years. It was such a surprise to see it that I missed the obvious objections Cassandra raised. And yet it told a story of fine young men who were neither lazy nor uneducated--in some sense a living rebuke to the Kerry slander. On balance I'd give the Times a pass on this one (in the sense that you want to give reinforcement to any improved behavior where someone is seriously deficient).

Posted by: Mike Myers at November 2, 2006 01:04 PM

WHOA!...What LindaSoG said. AND Jane, too. What a way to RE-REmind by attaching complete & full humanness to our honorable Troops. That's all I got.

'scuse my uncultured, backwoodness, but could I get specifics about the "Civil War Series"..?

Posted by: Rocky Mtn. Lioness at November 2, 2006 01:11 PM

Rocky Mtn. Lioness:

See here for the Wikipedia entry on "The Civil War" documentary; note the mention of Major Sullivan Ballou's letter in the section on Episode 1 of the series.

Posted by: socialism_is_error at November 2, 2006 01:35 PM

Mike, I don't see that piece as hostile to the military at all.

My husband and I were discussing it at 4 am this morning (he hadn't read it yet) and that was my candid assessment - that it was, if anything, sympathetic to what we go through. That is not the point of what I was trying to convey, and I think I did fail to convey my point.

Something was lost here.

Not a political point at all. A human point.

I don't see the world in simple terms by any means. I see competing interests which must be balanced intelligently. I see no legitimate competing interest which was served by linked this story to this particular young LCorporal's name. There was no legitimate 'need to know' that balanced the loss of privacy or the potential pain inflicted on family members.

At common law, when establishing a standard of care for professionals, the measure is what is reasonable for a professional of like age and experience, not just some schmuck off the street. So yes, I hold a *professional* journalist to a higher standard of care than a blogger, for instance, or my next door neighbor because this is his job. One presumes both expertise, judgment, and some degree of managerial oversight.

All I am saying here, on a very human level, is that there was (from my perspective) a failure to think. A failure of awareness. A failure not to possibly inflict further pain on an already wounded family when no legitimate public information interest was served by adding LCpl. Smith's name to this story in this context.

We were talking about this at the Cotillion in the context of a great post I'll link to momentarily. Hopefully it will clarify my point.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 01:44 PM

OK, Mr Silva or his clients aside, and if you do know more than you can comment on, which is probably more than what I know, then I can't speak to this with more authority than you can. There's that.

But, my larger point is still the same, we want to see and hear about what really happens from over there. Or do we? We have to have it both ways. What are we as a nation prepared to see? Do we want just DoD sanitized happy stories, or MSM gloom and doom? Do we want stories written by people sitting back in DC, or by embedded journalists with the troops, like the one we're talking about now? If we *want* to see and hear both sides, then we better be prepared to see and hear both sides. If we want to hear about a wonderful reconstruction project the SeaBees are doing, then we're also going to get stories that get a truly visceral reaction out of us. For good or for bad.

An aside-I still remember the first time I heard Major Ballou's last letter to his wife on the Civil War series. Even my father cried, greatly increasing my already high respect and love for him. We still have it (on VHS, no less). Maybe on DVD, someday.

Posted by: jpr at November 2, 2006 01:52 PM

The article is simply there to spread FUD.


Its just one more reason why I don't read the Times, and have not for years now.

Posted by: Eric Blair at November 2, 2006 01:54 PM


Failure to address point.

They could have written virtually the same article and omitted the wounded Marine's name

Got it? It is the linkage of specific details of a specific soldier's wounding, the graphic sight of a bloody blunted armor piercing bullet that (wow.. who knew it could pierce armor? I'd never have believed it without seeing the photo. And...eeeew! there's blood! Another shocker!) they felt compelled to tell us in detail had ripped through this guy's brain...

Oh nevermind.

I guess if your Mom were reading this and it were your baby brother who'd been killed, none of this would bother you in the least, jpr, because information vital to the public discourse (i.e., your brother's name) had been revealed.

And if your Mom ever manages to get those horrible, horrible images, now inextricably linked with the last memories of your brother, out of her head, I'm sure she'll see it that way too.

You know, if she asked to see that, it would be one thing. It's the casual nature of the disclosure that bothers me, but hey - the public has a right to know.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 02:21 PM

I'm sorry jpr. But having been there when a widow was notified her husband was dead, having been with her and watched her struggle with the ensuing grief for the next six months, I don't view this kind of thing through quite the same dispassionate lens.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 02:23 PM

Nice write up. Very nice.

But... For once, I find myself at great odds with your take on the value or perhaps essence of a thing and the meaningfulness or not of a thing.

Sometimes, sometimes, a visceral reaction can be the wrong one. And sometimes, even when the reaction is right, the assessment of its value can be the wrong one--or perhaps when one is too close to a thing, it feels more wrong than it really is... I don't know how to say that different.

I'm not sure this will make sense, or if it will matter to anyone but me, but I do not agree that what was written was a bad thing (I am assuming here that you posted it as written, and have not left our what you might deem more dastardly parts ). In fact, I was impressed by the fairly even- handedness of it. And no, I am not arguing re: the release of the marine's name--that was unquestionably wrong--but for me the test of the value of thing is whether or not it has been tampered with. How much did the reporter add or delete? How heavy handed was the writing, how much seemed to be aimed at causing a reaction (negative or positive---more about _that_ in a sec), and so on. And I assure you I am most sensitive to things written, the use or misuse of words, or being manipulated by and with them. To be plain, I did not take anything negative away from what you reposted. All-in-all, it sounded like a fairly even handed description of something that actually happened, no more nor less.

As for the value of the report, again, I tend to be different than some. I want to hear it all, good, bad, otherwise. I do not want my news edited, nor abridged, nor for any reporter nor editor to decide what I should see or hear. That's one reason I get most of my news from non-US media, e.g., the BBC (which is biased, but not nearly so much as a lot of ours), and a half dozen other sources around the world. I especially like one source watchingamerica.com http://watchingamerica.com/. But I digress. Yes, I understand that all publisher/editors choose what we see, and that reporters often report what the think is news, but sometimes, they just report what they see, and occasionally it gets printed the way it was reported, and for this article, at least, that's what it seems to be. As for what I take away from it, well, I suppose that depends on me, doesn't it. If I'm disposed to think negatively of the war and our military, than this would boost my opinions of myself as being a right-thinking kind of person. If, on the other hand, I'm fond of our military and I'm ok with the war, then this is just something I need to hear and see--something that helps me share in the experiences of those who are standing in my place doing what I'm not. It reminds me even if not needed that I owe a debt, that I am connected to those people even though we are on different sides of the earth doing different kinds of things every day. I want that kind of reminder. It keeps me humble and focused, and angry.

Which brings me to spin. In a nutshell, I hate spin in reporting, whether it is positive or negative. And I really love the lack of it. I did not see spin in that article, I saw painful truth not-so-elegantly presented. I read some facts and some other things, but what I got most, what stood out above all else was that Petty Officer Kirby was pissed off and hurt--very much so. My father-in-law was a navy corpsman for 22 years. He was assigned to Marine units for 11 of those years, in WWII, in Korea, in Cambodia in the late 50's, and in other places in-between the shooting. Reading about Kirby made me think of my father-in-law, of some of the stories he told me. I got nothing bad from that.

As for pictures and their impact, well, being a photographer of sorts, and very, very attached to imagery, I think that picture was important and powerful. I understand its affect on the family could be bad, but sometimes a picture is important and has power beyond the moment and the people to whom it's linked, especially when it causes people to examine themselves, when it evokes an emotional reaction. That said, I think that picture has real worth. Almost as much, in some ways, as Michael Yon's picture of the 25th ID Army Major holding that towel wrapped Iraqi child, or almost as much as the picture of the words scrawled on the Fallujah hanging bridge by the marines who passed across it (I can send that if you don't remember it).

I understand what you are getting at, but for just this once, I feel compelled to disagree with your interpretation.

With all respect

Posted by: SangerM at November 2, 2006 02:40 PM

I don't like the casual disclosure of information, either. If that's truly the case here, then that's unconscionable and sick on every level. I'm not advocating the releasing of names prior to notification, never said it.

And if my mom were still here, I'm sure we could have quite the discussion on all of this. I certainly wish I could. Maybe that's why I'm here reading all this...

Also, if you've already seen this and commented on it, my apologies. I'd like to hear your take on it, if you would be so kind.


Done will full permission on DoD and families.

Thanks for the opportunity to post here.

Posted by: jpr at November 2, 2006 03:24 PM

That piece from Rocky Mtn. News is one of the finest, most sensitive yet entirely honest pieces about what Gold Star families and CACOs deal with.
It's been out for sometime but reading the words, feeling the emotions and viewing the slides always..ALWAYS brings me to tears. The piece and the photos won a Pulitzer... very well deserved too.

It also wasn't done within 1 or 2 days of losing Lt.Cathey or LCPL Burns.
I should know. LCPL Burns was in my husband's unit and he attended the funeral. He was LCPL Burns Commanding Officer although Charlie Company was attached to a MEU and my husband had, by that time, returned from Iraq.

Posted by: Carrie at November 2, 2006 03:50 PM

As a matter of fact when I went back to look at the date of "Final Salute", it was published one year and 10 days after Kyle Burns was killed.
On Veterans' Day of this year will be the second anniversary of his death.

2nd Lt. Cathey was killed on August 21, 2005, so the article was published almost three months after he died.

We don't forget our Fallen..we honor their memory.
There is such a thing as a decent interval, don't you think?
I do.

Posted by: Carrie at November 2, 2006 04:05 PM

I've got to link to these two posts by Raven. She said it so much better than I could ever hope to.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 04:29 PM

jpr -

This is a photograph by your "professional as they come" Joao Silva. I did as you said, I googled him. He's taking pictures of snipers who kill our troops. Whoa, what a professional!

Posted by: MathMom® at November 2, 2006 04:42 PM

Rocky Mtn. Lioness -

Howdy! The soundtrack to The Civil War can be found at Amazon. Here is a clip of that letter being read, it's #28. When we watched the PBS series 15 or so years ago, listening to this letter nearly ripped my heart out. You could probably rent the series at Blockbuster.

Posted by: MathMom® at November 2, 2006 04:49 PM

Yes, Carrie, I believe there is. I'm not saying we need to see their names Now or Ever. Yes the story could've been done without mentioning his name. Absolutely. I'm not trying to argue that. Or trying to argue that "We Need To Know" trumps everything.

And no, Cassandra, I don't have the experiences that you do so I'm unable see it through your eyes and have the same reaction to it. Everyone sees things differently.

Fwiw, the photog, Todd Heisler, is an acquaintance of mine. When he left one job to go on to bigger and better things I had the misfortune of trying to fill his shoes. His pictures are thoughtful, respectful and compelling. The one image of the marines draping the flag in the cargo hold of the airplane with the people looking throught windows gives me chills every time I see it.

Posted by: jpr at November 2, 2006 04:50 PM

I think, jpr, honestly that it is hard for people who don't have the same experiences to get inside each other's shoes.

That's why the embedded reporter program is so important. I know it doesn't come across this way, but I have more understanding of how hard it is to be a good reporter than you might think. Blogging isn't all that different - just FAR easier! But we face many of the same pressures - to put out something quickly, often without the time to think it over. I daily fall short of the job I'd like to b/c of time pressure.

Sometimes my posts aren't as well thought out as I'd like them to be for the same reason.

I am not categorically against casket photos. I thought the RM series was wonderful - tastefully done and I linked to and wrote about it numerous times.

On the other hand, I resent the implication (by some politicians and media figures) that grieving families should have cameras shoved in their faces at every opportunity to "prove" the administration isn't "hiding anything". That's obscene.

You make some good points :)

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 05:10 PM

FWIW, I wrote about the Cathey thing on No Government Cheese. It was during my blogging hiatus here at VC, when I was promiscuously guest blogging at other sites.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 05:12 PM

If I ever meet Todd Heisler, I will give him the ultimate bear hug.
He treated people that I think of as family in a very gentle manner.
I don't get the sense that you are necessarily arguing with me at all. I just think there's something that hasn't been said that should have.
I'm busy with other things but it's important to know what that thing might be.
What do you think I might be missing?

We, the military family, tend to be very protective of our Gold Star families.
I know this and I really don't apologize for it but if it helps this great country to understand what they deal with..I'm willing to work with you.

Posted by: Carrie at November 2, 2006 05:38 PM

To Cassandra, the volume and content of your writing is incredible. You would do well as a journalist, IMHO, if that's something you wanted to pursue (then again...). Thanks again for the opportunity to be part of all this. I've only come around here since recently and it's interesting to see your take on things. I'll have to root around for what you wrote about the Final Salute story, I'd like to read it.

OK, some disclosure here, I was trained as a journalist and more specifically a newspaper photojournalist. Small-town community journalism and all that (though not any longer). I'm naturally curious of people, ideas and thoughts. I want to learn, see and hear different viewpoints on issues. No judgments or bias, so my mom taught me. So I always ask questions, oftentimes to the chagrin of my family and friends, in order to get people to perhaps look at things differently (devil's advocate?). Sometimes it works, other times, well...

Obviously I touched on something VERY close to you and others here. I don't mean to offend, truly. If I have, I apologize. A woman I work closely with is a Gold Star mom (army) and I come from a family of veterans, and from the looks of my family tree that may stop with me (usnr). I came to it later in life, so I am part of it in a way though not nearly the same level as you all.

Respecting privacy is the key. Above all else. At least that's what I was taught. Victimizing people and being the stereotypical ruthless cold-hearted journalist at the smalltown paper level does nothing for your reputation. You see the people everyday and they become part of your life.

So, forgive me. I don't mean to antagonize.

Posted by: jpr at November 2, 2006 06:32 PM

You didn't antagonize at all. You are welcome to disagree, and in fact I think that's a good thing.

I just got frustrated because I was busy and can only take a second to leave a quick comment in between phone calls, and I couldn't seem to frame my thoughts. That happens a lot during the work day.

I get comments emailed to me. I don't have time to read all of them, though I'm a very fast reader, so I scan if I take a quick break. If I'm waiting for something to download or I am recalculating something, or I have to wait on a client and I have a sec, I'll pop in and leave a comment.

But I get mildly annoyed sometimes when the day is so harried and I'm trying to multitask and I can't afford to stop work and frame my thoughts. I only budget a minute or two for a comment and then I have to go back to work, so perhaps some of that seeps into my comments when I'm already emotional about a subject.

I am a HUGE fan of small town papers, actually. I think they have covered the war and the people who are in it better, in many ways, than the big name papers. I think it's because they aren't quite so jaded. When we lose a soldier or Marine, it is ALWAYS the small town papers I go to for coverage.

Nobody does it better.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 06:40 PM

Holy hell. I'm going to be reading furiously all night now. Doc Kirby was my platoon corpsman when I was in charge of the battalion security platoon last year. Kirby was, without a doubt, one of the most passionate sailors I have met in my time with the FMF. He loved the job, and although we didn't see any combat on that deployment, he was always quick to volunteer for any training that we did. Doc Kirby is, without a doubt, a sailor that I would take on my flank any day.

Posted by: Lightning at November 2, 2006 07:44 PM

BTW, I plan to send an e-mail to LtCol Detreux, CO of 2/8, about this article tomorrow. The CO is a good man, and I think he will understand the concern over this article, if he has not already addressed it.

And I do agree that the mention of the advanced trauma course was in poor taste, and potentially harmful to the Armed Forces. There is a similar course run for Marines, which several men from my unit have attended. The training was beyond invaluable. I plan to petition for a slot next time we send Marines to one of these courses. If animal rights groups get fired up over this article and manage to put an end to this training, the results could potentially be deadly for a wounder soldier or Marine. I've been in situations like Doc Kirby's, I don't blame him at all. However, the reporter should have thought through the consequences of his article. Of course, by saying that, I am proving that I live in a dream world where most reporters are actually responsible people.

Posted by: Lightning at November 2, 2006 08:00 PM

I don't blame him either. He sounds like a wonderful, caring guy.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 08:13 PM

Doc Kirby sounds like the kind of guy I'd like to buy a beer or two for.
If you have contact with him, please let him know some Marine wife said so and will pony up when he's available.

It was not him that I had a problem with..

Posted by: Carrie at November 2, 2006 08:31 PM

Someone please follow this link and tell me that I am misinterpreting the title of their post. Tell me I am overreacting. Because right now I am damn near livid.


Posted by: Lightning at November 2, 2006 10:33 PM

I'm sorry. You can't let assholes like that get to you.

And no, I don't think you're misinterpreting the title of that post. But it just seems to point up what I was trying to get at with this post, though I didn't do a terribly good job of it: that somewhere in all of this, we seem to have forgotten that this is all happening to real people who read, and are affected by, what we write.

I notice he didn't link to anyone who actually tried to call the article evidence of treason, or even one like it. But he's so hell bent on scoring rhetorical points on the other side that the sickness of what he just did is completely lost on him.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 2, 2006 10:47 PM

I found the story on the Navy corpsman compelling and moving journalism. It put a very human face to the names and numbers we read about daily -- the GIs who fight, who die or who are grievously wounded.

If I read you correctly, you're disgust with the article is because it provided too much detail that would cause pain to the family - a family that, indeed, may not have been apprised of their son's fate.

On the same day the Times ran its story, this ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the newspaper in Lance Cpl. Colin Smith's hometown.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006
John P. Coyne
Plain Dealer Reporter

A Marine from Avon Lake serving in Iraq was in serious condition in a hospital in Germany after he was shot when his unit came under attack while on patrol, family members said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Colin Smith, 19, was shot in the head, said his mother, Melissa Smith. He was then flown to a hospital in Germany.

Smith joined the Marines after graduating from Avon Lake High School, his mother said.

This story from another Ohio newspaper reports Cpl. Smith's mother had seen the Times piece and learned from it her son was alive and responsive when the Navy Corpsman last saw him.

Perhaps you overstated the negative impact of this story. Or perhaps it's simply that it appeared in the New York Times.

Posted by: Dave In Texas at November 3, 2006 01:39 PM

Again, unfortunately there isn't any more on this Dave. My commentary had nothing to do with it appearing in the New York Times. I've written similar things about pieces that have appeared in the Post (my hometown paper). If you read what I wrote, I didn't say it was written negatively. I think you need to read more carefully.

I think it's better if I just don't say any more. I've pretty much expressed my opinion in this and the ensuing pieces. I'm willing to let that stand, and readers are free to disagree and say so.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 3, 2006 01:48 PM

Awesome post.

At our house, we remember the cry of the warriors:
"Tell them of us and say,
For their tomorrow, we gave our today."
--The Kohima Epitaph--

We remember what you have given. And we say thank you for the tomorrows you have given others. May God give back to your families more than they have sacrificed and lost.

Posted by: Coach Mark at November 4, 2006 11:36 PM

I'm speechless as well.

Posted by: beth at November 6, 2006 12:35 AM

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