Thursday, December 15, 2011

Twenty Years Later: A Memory of the Gulf War

The United States officially ended its mission in Iraq on Thursday, nearly nine years after it led an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad for the ceremony to personally thank the U.S. troops who have served there, as well as Iraqi security forces. ~ CNN Breaking News, 15 December 2011, 0528 EST

It was Spring, 1991.  I stood upon a knoll overlooking the grave site in Cannelton, Indiana, as the squad of U.S. Army soldiers prepared to fire the salute. A few yard in front of me, also overlooking the burial, stood my son, Rob, and his friend, Ray.  Mark has been about the age of Rob and Ray when I first met him.

The last time I talked to Mark had been near Christmas the previous year. He was home on leave after completing a course at the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, that qualified him as a tank mechanic. Mark was proud to be certified to work on tanks: he told me he loved those huge steel monsters of war. He asked me about my experiences as an armor officer with a tank battalion stationed in (then) West Germany. I remember telling him that much of my time had been spent attempting to keep my tanks operational. Mark smiled and said, "If I had been there, I would have done a good job for you, sir."

Now, just a few months later, I was attending Mark's funeral. He had been killed by "friendly fire" in Iraq as he and his fellow mechanic were clearing a road of disabled Iraqi tanks. An allied fighter pilot mistook them for Iraqi solders and fired a missile into their midst. The lyrics of a song by Eric Bogle came to my mind:

Well, how do you do, Private William McBride, Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside? And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun, I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done. And I see by your gravestone you were only 19 When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916, Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene? 
Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly? Did the rifles fir o'er you as they lowered you down? Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus? Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest? ~ The Green Fields of France (No man's Land)

Like Willie McBride, Mark was only 19. At the internment below me there had been no bagpipes; there was a solitary bugle that played Taps and the 21-gun salute of a squad of U.S. soldiers.  Tears ran from my eyes as I stood there.

Mark's was the first death of a person I knew personally. It would not be the last.

Now that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is officially over, I find myself unable to celebrate. Too many civilians, solders, insurgents have died,,, and Iraq is still not at peace. I am again reminded of Eric Bogle's song:

And I can't help but wonder, now Willie McBride, Do all those who lie here know why they died? Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?" Did you really believe that this war would end wars? Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain, For Willie McBride, it all happened again, And again, and again, and again, and again.

And so I pray as I remember and hope.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God. ~ Matthew 5:8-10 


  1. Blessed are the peacemakers. Says it all.

  2. Excellent, Rev Saint. Well written and quite a story.