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March 13, 2012

In Case of My Death

"My death did not change the world; it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all. But there is a greater meaning to it. Perhaps I did not change the world. Perhaps there is still injustice in the world. But there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his. And this child will learn in the new schools that have been built. He will walk his streets not worried about whether or not his leader's henchmen are going to come and kidnap him. He will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire. He will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it.

Semper Fidelis means always faithful. Always faithful to God, Country and Corps. Always faithful to the principles and beliefs that guided me into the service. And on that day in October when I placed my hand on a bible and swore to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, I meant it."

- Sgt. William C. Stacey, 23
United States Marine Corps

Via Dana Milbanks, who writes:

Washington is debating that greater meaning and whether all the trouble — the civilian killings, the Koran burnings, the feckless Karzai government — justifies continued fighting in Afghanistan even though al-Qaeda has been routed and public opinion on the conflict has soured. There’s no good answer, but no policymaker should make a decision about the war without strolling through Section 60. Its rows tell the story of this generation’s wars: A few headstones from Afghanistan quickly yield to monuments mostly from Iraq; then, toward the end, the Afghanistan dead return.

Among stones topped by crosses, Stars of David and the occasional crescent, a makeshift museum has been built by friends and family of the fallen. A helium balloon boasting “30” floated above the tombstone of Thomas J. Brown, whose 30th birthday would have been Tuesday; he died in 2008 in Iraq, and his grave had a fresh arrangement of pink roses, yellow daisies and white gladioluses, with a note: “Miss you. Love always, Mom.” A photo taped to the back of his headstone showed him smiling in his combat helmet two days before his death.

Arlington authorities, perhaps recognizing the significance of Section 60 and its young dead, have exempted the graves from their policy against decorations. On Tuesday, there were purple Mardi Gras beads, crosses fashioned from toothpicks, laminated photos, heart stickers, decorative stones, pinwheels, plush toys, a can of chewing tobacco, a marathon finisher’s medal, a plastic leprechaun hat, even a cat-shaped yard ornament. A red T-shirt at one grave said, “R.I.P. Big Mac.” A seashell was inscribed: “To my big brother. Love, Your little sister XOXO.”

A prayer to Joan of Arc decorated the grave of a young woman killed in Iraq. On the stone of Sgt. Karl Campbell, an Army ranger who fell in 2010 at age 34, is a school photo of his son, missing a front tooth, and a letter in a plastic bag, to “my best friend always.”

Among the most heartbreaking is the stone of Spec. Douglas Jay Green, killed in Afghanistan in August at age 23. A Valentine’s Day card had a quotation from Hermann Hesse, “If I know what love is, it is because of you,” and a handwritten message: “Doug, This year you would have been home for Valentine’s Day. . . . But I have to remind myself that ‘could haves’ and ‘would haves’ were never supposed to be.”

Nearby, an older couple sat on fresh sod, grieving over a soldier buried so recently there was no headstone. They stepped aside as the caisson approached with Sgt. Stacey’s remains. The young man, the son of college professors, was to have returned to Camp Pendleton by now, his overseas deployments done. He planned to attend a Marine Corps ball in April with his fiancee.

Instead, she joined Stacey’s sister and parents in accepting folded flags Tuesday afternoon from a sergeant major on bended knee. Among those paying their respects were several young Marines, one in a wheelchair.

In the letter to his family, Stacey wrote of his service: “If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it.”

The nation must soon decide whether Stacey’s hope remains true.

I was fine with Milbanks' essay until the final sentence. Having supported the war on terriers during the evil Bu$Hitler years, there is little in it that this erstwhile Marine wife has not thought many a time. I cannot argue, for instance, that we have no duty to weigh the terrible costs of war against what we hope to achieve by resorting to the force of arms. We do, and we must.

But that is a separate question from whether the vast majority of us who have experienced no personal cost over the last ten years have any right to substitute their uninvolved and uniformed judgement for that of a man who volunteered to serve, knowing full well what the unhappy end state might be for him and for those he loved.

The coin of William Stacey's life was his own to spend as he chose. In the end, he chose to spend it on something he valued. I am reminded of the words of a taxi driver in a faraway land:

Late March, 2003. I’m travelling within Germany on business and get into a taxi. I notice by his accent the driver isn’t a German national. Because there’s kind of a bond between ex-pats, we start talking. I ask him where he’s from.

“Iraq. What about you?”

“I’m an American.”

The anti-war sentiment in Germany is high during this time, so we start slowly. But soon the words come tumbling out as he tells me his story.

He spent many years in Saddam’s Army and fought in the never-ending and bloody war with Iran. But when the order came to invade Kuwait, he’d had enough. He left the country and made his way to Germany, hoping to send for his wife and two children once he was settled.

His wife and children were “disappeared”.

He becomes increasingly emotional, gesturing and saying if he could only find Saddam, he’d kill him with his bare hands.

I ask him about his children; their names, how old they’d be now. He tells me.

Then, suddenly, he pulls the taxi over, puts his head on the steering wheel, and starts sobbing uncontrollably.

“Nobody cared”, he says with tears running down his face. “Nobody cared about us – except George Bush and America."

It is easy to lose hope; to focus more keenly on our present losses and setbacks than on a bloody past we have already forgotten or a shadowy future we cannot see yet clearly. It was easy - far too easy - to close our eyes to the savagery protected by our ineffectual no-fly zones and economic sanctions. That we fastidiously contained evil rather than opposing or exposing it was just one more truth preferred not to think about:

I came to know several Iraqi officials well enough that they confided in me that Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed. One Foreign Ministry officer told me of a colleague who, finding out his brother had been executed by the regime, was forced, as a test of loyalty, to write a letter of congratulations on the act to Saddam Hussein. An aide to Uday once told me why he had no front teeth: henchmen had ripped them out with pliers and told him never to wear dentures, so he would always remember the price to be paid for upsetting his boss.

The image of America as a beacon, a shining city on a hill is often mocked by the sort of person who fancies himself to be far too sophisticated to see things in black and white. But what we too often forget is that to those who have never experienced the freedom and security we enjoy, America still represents a dream: a vision of a life relatively free from fear of violent repression, a life in which the rule of law can be taken for granted.

A life in which hope becomes a hackneyed campaign slogan rather than a faintly flickering candle raised against the terrifying dark.

We have that life because men like William Stacey risked their lives and their fortunes to secure it. In the end, talk is cheap and the words of politicians who speak of global consensus and the international brotherhood of men pale into insignificance when weighed against the deeds of men who put words aside and acted on their convictions.

Who are we - the protected - to second guess them?

Posted by Cassandra at March 13, 2012 09:01 PM

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I have been of the opinion, for some time now, that we have crossed the point of diminishing returns in Afghanistan. But, that's really quite separate from the issue here.

"If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it."

Why would Milbanks think that has anything to do with policymaking or the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan? Sgt. Stacey did not say where, or when, or if there were any caveats to his covenant, but Milbanks appears to think that it's realtive to the overall policy achievements. How strange, to miss a profound statement of the ultimate in altruism.

Stepping over a fortune to pick up a penny.

Posted by: Allen at March 15, 2012 12:52 PM

Beautiful essay, Cassandra. One wonders what the world would look like today without the American serviceman.

I would say "a lot worse".

I read some years ago - somewhere - that Sadaam's henchemen would come out to neighborhoods - and publican behead some unfortunate person who crossed Sadaam.

Then they would throw the head in a trashcan fr all to see - the locals knew better than to remove it.

And it is always the young serviceman who pays the price.

Posted by: Bill Brandt at March 15, 2012 08:42 PM

That we continue to find such men as this Sergeant of Marines is a blessing so very many in this country willfully refuse to see or honor despite the fact that it is precisely because of this great national treasure that we continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty and freedom.

RIP William Stacey.
Thou good and faithful warrior.

Posted by: DL Sly at March 16, 2012 07:51 AM

Can't comment. Sorry - I just lose my temper every time I try.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 16, 2012 09:41 AM

"Can't comment. Sorry - I just lose my temper every time I try."
It must be going around... I seem to come down with that symptom/ailment? all too frequently these past few years.

Posted by: bthun at March 16, 2012 11:31 AM

The Green Leaves of Summer

A time to be reaping
A time to be sowing
The green leaves of summer
Are calling me home
Was so good to be young then
In the season of plenty
When the catfish were jumping
As high as the sky
A time just for planting
And the time just for ploughing
A time to be courting
Courting a girl of your own
Was so good to be young then
To be close to the earth
And to stand by your wife
At the moment of birth, wo...
A time to be reaping
A time to be sowing
A time just for living
A place for to die "
It was so good to be young then
To be close to the earth
Now the green leaves of summer
Are calling me home "
It was so good to be young then
To be close to the earth
Now the green leaves of summer
Are calling me home


There will come a day, there will come a time, for a full accounting and fuller understanding of what has transpired the last 11 years.

I just hope we don't forget. I don't want to forget. I hope America doesn't forget.

They turned the page of history.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 16, 2012 12:04 PM

Don, that was beautiful. Thank you.

I apologize for my foul mood. I've wiped out so many comments. Best just to keep my thoughts to myself.

I think I'll just go with, "What DL Sly said".

Posted by: Cassandra at March 16, 2012 12:32 PM

"I just lose my temper every time I try."

If you happen to find yours, would you look around for mine, too, please, while you're *there*?

Posted by: DL Sly at March 16, 2012 12:47 PM

Bravo, Cass.

Posted by: spd rdr at March 16, 2012 01:16 PM

The fallen hero did well; we must do as well, here.
I attended the local caucus last night; the system is already rigged, no open vote on primary, just "elect / select" two delegates each to the county and state CONventions. The delegates claimed to be uncommitted to any candidate, special interest group or so forth, they would make up their minds based on the positions and traits of the candidates.
It was a setup, of course; two years back, an incumbent Senator was tossed out at the convention, when delegates decided he had changed sufficiently into a tool so as to be unworthy of continued office. This morning, the local news (!) put it out that the other incumbent Senator, having seen what happened last time, loaded the caucuses with his supporters, who in some cases kept the voting going until his supporters were "elected / selected" to the conventions. If 60% of the delegates vote for the incumbent, he will face no opponent in the primary, and that is the clear goal. No opponent, easy cruise to re-election, or so he hopes.
I will probably vote for ANYONE who opposes the incumbent in the election. If enough others do likewise, we will send a message to the local and state party machines that we cannot be railroaded in this fashion.
My salute to the fallen hero; my condolences to his family. But I suspect we will not have to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran to find our most dangerous enemies soon.
They live, scheme and plot among us, at all levels, to take away our choices, rights and liberties. Prepare accordingly.

Posted by: Jim at March 16, 2012 02:41 PM

Semper Fi, Marine. Semper Fi.

And you, Mrs. Marine - Cass - Semper Fi to you too dear lady. You have earned the right to lose your temper. You are as much a Marine as anyone who has gone through MCRD Sandy Eggo, Parris Island or TBS at Quantico.

Where do we who serve find women like you, who wait at home while we go off to exotic places and put our lives on the line...while you hold your breath for our deployment and watch and listen for the information that you never want to hear? I don't know how or why I was blessed to wind up with my bride, and why she has put up with what I do, both active and reserve for the enitre time we have been married. But I am eternally grateful for her and for the women like her who are the "Household 6."

I think I am a very lucky guy. I imagine that Mr. Cass feels the same way about you.

Sorry to ramble. Lex has me thinking a lot lately.


Posted by: Kbob in Katy at March 16, 2012 10:25 PM

I've written these letters, but never so well. What a gift for a young man to possess; and honor, too.

Posted by: Grim at March 17, 2012 12:36 AM

Semper Fi, Marine. Most very well done.

I saw this earlier this week and didn't dare say anything then. Still don't, really. To possibly misquote our dearly departed Lex, "For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not understand, no explanation is possible."

Actually, an explanation would be nice but is not necessary: how did the lying c**p weasels gain control of both our government and our military? I don't know. Perhaps knowing would make it easier to throw them out, or at least convince me that this country is worth saving. At the moment it looks like the great experiment has failed.

Our hostess is also the mother of Marines. Thank you for returning, ma'am. Your posts are a treasure.

Posted by: htom at March 17, 2012 01:08 AM