By Mike Barnicle
At the same time a couple Marines knocked on Claire Farrar's door in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Friday to tell her that her son, Sergeant Andrew Farrar Jr. 31, serving with the 2nd Marines in Iraq— had died there on his birthday, I stepped off a plane in Washington and got stuck in traffic on a ribbon of road running alongside Arlington National Cemetery. On a hillside in the distance, services were being held for an American soldier named Francis Obaji who was born in Nigeria, grew up in New York, enlisted in the Army after September 11th and lost his life in Baghdad at the age of 21.
“So sad,” my cabdriver murmured to himself. “So sad.”
The war comes home with increasing frequency now, arriving with a river of tears; shed either for those who are casualties or the lucky majority whose units make it back safely to families forced to endure the daily anxiety of being able to read and hear about battles and ambushes as they happen while wondering if a son, daughter, husband or father's fate was lucky or lethal.
Part of their service and all of their sacrifice was met with success Sunday when millions of Iraquis braved bullets and bombs to line up and vote for the first time in half a century. The explanation and argument surrounding the war here briefly faded as pictures of people determined to cast a ballot and form a government temporarily muted debate over our involvement.
In places like Boston, New York City, L.A. and so many other spots, we positively take voting for granted, if we bother to vote at all. Election day means a stop at a school or a fire station where there are small lines and no threat to safety at a ballot box.
Nobody dies. The opposition isn't armed with rocket launchers or IEDs. So how come the turnout— on a per capita basis— can be higher in parts of war ravaged cities like Mosul and Baghdad than it is in American wards and precincts where they scream about snow removal, trash pick-up, traffic, taxes and public education but don't bother to vote in numbers that would indicate they care about the country where we all live?
The Farrar family— the brothers, sister and parents of the dead Marine— are packing to head south in order to be there when the body of their noble boy comes home from war. In Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the family of Corporal Timmy Gibson, 23, is in mourning too. Out in the Berkshires, David and Joanne Fuller are preparing to bury their son, 26 year old Lieutenant Travis Fuller, USMC, killed last week along with all the others who died when a CH-53 helicopter crashed in the Iraqui desert. This terrible task is increasingly being conducted across the land.
The reasons for this war will be argued for some time. The circumstances of our involvement are still surrounded by the fog and half-truths of politics. History will sort out right and wrong long after the sound of Taps echo across graveyards in the small towns and big cities that sent the brave to fight for the ungrateful. But that judgment will do little to console the survivors or lessen their grief.
In the darkness before dawn Saturday, 24 hours before Iraq voted, I was back in another cab heading across Memorial Bridge to the airport in Washington for a flight back to Boston. As the car made the turn around the Lincoln Memorial, the eternal flame at the side of John F. Kennedy's grave in Arlington National burned as brightly as a beacon in the dead of night. The sight of it mesmerized me for a moment and made me think about the gift that men like Andrew Farrar, Francis Obaji, Corporal Gibson, Lieutenant Fuller and all the others across our history have given us and how easily we can forget what it's like to be free and how much it costs.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard