Friday, March 21, 2008

A Military Cemetery on Good Friday

My wife and I spent three cold hours volunteering on this Good Friday afternoon at the ArlingtonWest display of tombstones of U.S. military men and women killed in Iraq. The cold, blustery and gray day was a 'perfect' setting for this somber display.

It had just begun to snow when we arrived to see the 4000 wooden tombstones aligned in perfect order, state by state. The name, age, date of death, military unit, rank, and place of death was typed and put into a plastic sheath, stapled to the wood. For the Ohio section a small American flag was placed next to each monument.

Most of the others just stood there in the cold and snow. A few, especially those of Michigan and Ohio had more flags, ribbons, or flowers and occasionally a photo of the dead serviceman. Sometimes a family photo was displayed as well.

A few had a dried flower encased in plastic attached to the marker. Perhaps this flower was from one of the floral dispays at the funeral home.

Besides extra materials on the Ohio and Michigan markers, occasionally I'd see one from North Carolina with a ribbon on it or another from Tennessee with some special personalized touch, indicating, perhaps a grandparent here in the Toledo area had visited the display earlier in the week.

One of the most shocking displays of tombstones was at the far end of the main display. I hadn't noted that it was any different at first, but then I saw an interesting tag on one. It read: "Death by Hanging."

Hanging? Clearly the Iraqi insurgents weren't hanging our soldiers. Then it dawned on me: these hundreds of markers were dedicated to the military men and women who made it back to America but apparently could not fit back into a society that they had left. This series of tombstones were all suicides.

The most common method of suicide was, not suprisingly, "shooting." Yet rather uncommon methods appeared as well: poisoning, throwing self into traffic and stabbing.

This evening's Bill Moyer's Journal focused on a new documentary film, Body of War, soon to be released. It follows a 22-year-old army vet shot in the chest and paralyzed from the nipples down. Tomas Young's body is so badly damaged that he cannot control his own body temperature and must use ice packs to cool down. Of course neither his bladder nor bowels function either.

He now speaks against continuing the war. His life is ruined and so is his wife's and his mother's and he is personally angry at George Bush. This young man listened to Bush on the bullhorn in New York City telling us that the people who knocked down these buildings would pay for doing so. As a result of that speech, he joined the Army next day. But, after basic training, he was not sent to Afghanistan to find bin Laden, but he was sent to Iraq. On his 5th day there, he was shot by a sniper.

The film is a examination of how we got to Iraq, how the war was promoted, how the senators votes, and how this administration used our military as nothing more than canon fodder for a war that did not have to be fought. The film is an indictment of the Bush administration.

Body of War. The dead of war now on display at the Lucas County Courthouse until noon on Saturday.

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