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1st Squad, 3rd Platoon

StoryCorps    11 November 2014





1st Squad, 3rd Platoon

Video        StoryCorps        11 November 2014


In August 2005,

Marine Lance Cpl. Travis Williams and his squad

were sent on a rescue mission in Barwanah, Iraq.


En route, their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.


Of Travis' entire 12-person team,

he alone survived.


Here, Travis reflects

on the hours and days after the explosion,

as well as his life now,

and pays tribute to the men he left behind.





















































Marine staff sergeant Mark Graunke

with Pearl Harbor veteran Houston James.


Photograph: Jim Mahoney


‘There was an unsaid understanding between us’:

the Dallas Veterans Day Parade, 2004


Friday 22 September 2017    14.00 BST

Last modified on Saturday 23 September 2017    00.10 BST



















Army SSG. John Daniel Shannon with his son Drake Shannon (at right), 6.


“Dan” Shannon was a sniper

for Ghost Recon Platoon /2nd Infantry Div. in Iraq

when he was injured.


He lost his shooting eye

and was treated at Walter Reed.


Photograph: Michel du Cille

The Washington Post, via Getty Images


Michel du Cille: A Photographer With Compassion and Respect

12 December 2014        NYT

































(1 of 2) U.S. Marine Sgt. James "Eddie" Wright

holds his engagement ring

before proposing to his girlfriend, Cody Fife

during a ceremony Monday, July 12, 2010

in which Wright was presented with a new home

in Conroe, Texas through the Helping A Hero program.



AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson


Boston Globe > Big Picture

Recent scenes from Iraq        July 19, 2010





(2 of 2) Marine Sgt. James Wright, 34,

embraces his now-fiance Cody Fife (she said yes)

after proposing to her during a ceremony

Monday, July 12, 2010 in Conroe, Texas.


Sgt. Wright was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions

after his Bravo Company 1st Recon platoon

was ambushed in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.


A rocket propelled grenade

blew off his forearms and hands

and caused his femur on his left leg to be fractured.


Since its inception four years ago,

Houston-based Helping A Hero

has completed 19 homes that are fully adapted

to the needs of soldiers severely wounded

in Iraq and Afghanistan.



AP Photo/The Courier, Eric S. Swist


Boston Globe > Big Picture

Recent scenes from Iraq        July 19, 2010


















Baghdad ER


Photograph: Zoriah Miller


added 26.7.2008




























sacrifice        USA



















be killed        UK










be killed by enemy fire








be killed by friendly fire        UK










be killed by mortar attack        UK










be killed by IED        UK










(be) killed        USA












be killed in action

















K.I.A.’s — killed in action








killed in an explosion








be killed in a grenade attack








die in action






















































be killed in the line of duty








die in a bomb blast        UK






roadside bomb attack        UK






fatality, fatalities








cannon fodder        UK






dog tag















bloodbath        USA






bloodshed        USA











body        UK






























death toll







death march








war dead        UK






the fallen








fallen soldiers        UK






fallen troops        USA









casualties of war








casualties        USA










WW1 > Arras battle > casualties        USA










next-of-kin        UK



































be airlifted to N






1952 > Korean war > Mobile Army Surgical Hospital        MASH        USA















British dead and wounded in Afghanistan, month by month        UK        April 2012


What is the human cost

of the war in Afghanistan

for British forces?


As British troop deaths reach 412,

these are the latest figures

- including the most recent wounded

and amputation statistics






British troops killed in Iraq > 100th soldier killed        January 31 2006

http://www.guardian.co.uk/flash/0,,1699739,00.html - Flash required





British soldiers killed in Iraq > Full list






The Guardian > Interactive guides > Iraq






The Guardian > Special report > Iraq timeline: 2005






The Guardian > Special report > Iraq timeline: February 1 2004 to December 31 2004

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/page/0,12438,1151021,00.html  - broken link





The Guardian > Special report > Iraq timeline: July 16 1979 to January 31 2004

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/page/0,12438,793802,00.html - broken link





The Guardian > Special report > Full texts of speeches and key documents

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/documents/0,,916659,00.html - broken link


















Baghdad ER

Photograph: Zoriah Miller

added 26.7.2008


















Baghdad ER

Photograph: Zoriah Miller

added 26.7.2008

















Baghdad ER

Photograph: Zoriah Miller

added 26.7.2008
















Corpus of news articles


War > Casualties > Soldiers





Returning fallen warriors'



15 April 2011

Associated Press



DOVER, Del. – The contents of a fallen warrior's foot locker tell a story that can be wrenching for those cataloging the items to ship to grieving families.

Chief Warrant Officer William Couch recalled a poem he found among the belongings of a slain service member. It was penned by the man's wife or girlfriend in the voice of their baby daughter — a child he would never meet.

"It's at those points in time, where, I don't care who you are, human nature kicks in," Couch said. "I shed a few tears, backed up, gained my composure, went back and did the case because it was the right thing to do for the family."

Such moments come so often for workers at the military's Joint Personal Effects Depot that the unit has two staff counselors to help them stay focused on their sad but noble mission of sorting, photographing, cleaning and shipping the belongings of service members killed overseas.

"This team we have is a very special group that provides this service to the families with the utmost dignity, integrity and respect because we know these items mean so much to the families," said their commander, Lt. Col. Kelly Kyburz. She led reporters on a tour Thursday of the unit's new, permanent home at Dover Air Force Base.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was planned Friday.

The center will move by the end of June from Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it has occupied three World War II-era warehouses since 2003. The unit was created in 2001 to recover the belongings of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

The new, $17.5 million building stands beside the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations center at Dover, the U.S. entry point for the remains of all service members killed overseas. Its linear layout is designed to allow staff to more efficiently handle personal effects and shorten the 30-day timeline for returning the items to families, Kyburz said.

Most steps in the process, from opening incoming foot lockers to repacking them for shipment, are done in one, gray-walled room. Kyburz said this saves time compared with Aberdeen, where items are shuttled from room to room or building to building.

It will also save money, although officials said they don't know how much. The military says the new unit is authorized for 148 workers, down from 190. Most of them are civilian employees of contractor Serco Inc., of Reston, Va.

Worker requirements, according to a recent Serco job posting, include the "ability to remain calm during highly emotional or crisis situations."

Some families long for even the scent of their lost loved one — and they can have it. Couch said families can place a "do not wash" request to have clothing returned dirty but still smelling of the fallen service member.

Jeff Davis, a retired railroad worker in Cumberland, Md., said he was pleased with the center's handling of his son's belongings after Army Pfc. Brandon Lee Davis was killed by an explosion near Fallujah, Iraq, in March 2004.

Davis said he especially treasures the photographs of his son that were on a returned camera. The camera also contained some video of an Iraqi shop that Brandon shot and narrated before the soldiers were abruptly ordered to move out, Davis said.

"He said, 'Gotta go get in a car going across the bridge. We could be blown up,'" Davis said. "To hear him say that, and then later on that's how he dies ...." Davis' voice trailed off.

It's still painful to hear his son's voice, Davis said, "but it's something to have, you know?"

Mission: Returning fallen warriors' belongings,






Grim Milestone:

1,000 Americans Dead


May 18, 2010
The New York Times


He was an irreverent teenager with a pregnant girlfriend when the idea first crossed his mind: Join the Army, raise a family. She had an abortion, but the idea remained. Patrick S. Fitzgibbon, Saint Paddy to his friends, became Private Fitzgibbon. Three months out of basic training, he went to war.

From his outpost in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan, he complained to his father about shortages of cigarettes, Skittles and Mountain Dew. But he took pride in his work and volunteered for patrols. On Aug. 1, 2009, while on one of those missions, Private Fitzgibbon stepped on a metal plate wired to a bomb buried in the sun-baked earth. The blue sky turned brown with dust.

The explosion instantly killed Private Fitzgibbon, 19, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Cpl. Jonathan M. Walls, a 27-year-old father from Colorado Springs. An hour later, a third soldier who was helping secure the area, Pfc. Richard K. Jones, 21, of Roxboro, N.C., died from another hidden bomb. The two blasts wounded at least 10 other soldiers.

On Tuesday, the toll of American dead in Afghanistan passed 1,000, after a suicide bomb in Kabul killed at least five United States service members. Having taken nearly seven years to reach the first 500 dead, the war killed the second 500 in fewer than two. A resurgent Taliban active in almost every province, a weak central government incapable of protecting its people and a larger number of American troops in harms way all contributed to the accelerating pace of death.

The mayhem of last August, coming as Afghans were holding national elections, provided a wake-up call to many Americans about the deteriorating conditions in the country. Forty-seven American G.I.’s died that month, more than double the previous August, making it the deadliest month in the deadliest year of the war.

In many ways, Private Fitzgibbon typified the new wave of combat deaths. American troops are dying younger, often fresh out of boot camp, military records show. From 2002 to 2008, the average age of service members killed in action in Afghanistan was about 28; last year, it dropped to 26. This year, the more than 125 troops killed in combat were on average 25 years old.

In the last two years, the number of troops killed by homemade bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, increased significantly. Earlier in the war, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire took the largest number of American lives. But in 2008, for the first time, more than half of American combat deaths were the result of I.E.D.’s, which — just as they did in Iraq — have become both more powerful and more plentiful in Afghanistan.

Those I.E.D. deaths have increasingly come in batches: Last August, for instance, 17 of the 25 deaths caused by I.E.D.’s — including the one that killed Private Fitzgibbon and Corporal Walls — involved attacks in which more than one soldier or Marine died. In future histories, the summer of 2009 may stand as a turning point in the war, a moment when not only the American public began paying attention again to Afghanistan, but when the Obama administration felt compelled to review and revise its entire approach to the war.

The warm months have long been the prime fighting season in Afghanistan, when insurgents have emerged from mountain havens to plot ambushes and recruit new fighters. But in the run-up to the August presidential elections last year, the Taliban’s reach was wider and more potent than at any time since they were driven from power.

Not only did the number of I.E.D. attacks and suicide bombings jump, but the devices themselves became more powerful, capable of flipping or tearing holes into heavily armored vehicles that had once seemed impervious. A bomb estimated at 2,000 pounds killed seven American soldiers and their interpreter riding in a troop carrier last fall.

July, August, September and October went on record as the four deadliest months for American troops since the war began.

After receiving an alarming report about the war from his top commander in Afghanistan, President Obama last fall ordered 30,000 more troops into the war, most of whom will be in place by this summer.

But in calling for more troops, Mr. Obama and other supporters of the new surge warned that casualties, American and Afghan, were almost certain to rise before security improved. The fierce fighting in Helmand Province this year has proven them right, with 16 combat dead in February, compared with just 2 the previous February.

“If the Taliban has obtained political control over important parts of the country, the only way it will get better is if we introduce military forces and contest their control,” said Steven Biddle, a defense policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who was part of a group that reviewed American strategy last summer. “And that’s going to get people killed: their people, our people and civilians.”


Good Days and Bad

They did not know each other well. But the three soldiers from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colo., shared a few things in common. All had weathered the breakup of their parents’ marriages. None liked school much. And all viewed the Army as a path to a better life.

Pfc. Richard K. Jones had been a star high school wrestler in Person, N.C., near the Virginia border. All arms and legs at 6-foot-2 and 152 pounds, he made it to the state championships one year. The sport gave his life discipline, his mother said, and he thought the Army would be the perfect place to channel it.

His mother, Franceen Ridgeway, prevailed on him to try college instead. But after earning an associate’s degree and working as a diesel mechanic for a short time, he asked his mother to support his military ambitions. She consented, saying: “Maybe it’s what God wants you to do.”

He graduated from basic training in late January 2009 and was in Afghanistan by May. In one firefight, Private Jones fell and dislocated his shoulder. But the medics popped it back in, gave him a few days off and then returned him to duty.

“He wasn’t into death or dying,” Ms. Ridgeway said. “To him, it was an honor to be a soldier. And it was a chance to see the world, to get away from a small town. Maybe he was thinking he might never have that opportunity again.”

Cpl. Jonathan Walls was the son of a Navy man, but he played soldier from the time he could hold a toy gun, his mother, Lisa Rowe, said. In the woods outside Reading, Pa., he spent innumerable hours hunting, target shooting and playing paintball. After high school, he tried community college and worked at a Lowe’s. But only the military captured his imagination, and he enlisted in 2005. By 2007, he was in Iraq.

Roadside bombs there gave him a mild traumatic brain injury, Ms. Rowe said, and he returned home suffering migraine headaches that made it difficult to sleep. Nevertheless, he received orders to deploy to Afghanistan, arriving there last May, three months after the birth of his third child.

“I thought they might not send him so that his brain could simmer down,” Ms. Rowe said. “But we’re in a time of war. He said, ‘Ma, it’s my duty.’ ”

On the day before Charlie Company deployed last summer, Private Fitzgibbon took a bunch of soldiers to a strip club near Fort Carson, running up a $3,400 tab that his father paid off. It was typical Patrick. Charmingly roguish, he wore his hair in a brightly tinted Mohawk, drilled holes the size of nickels into his ear lobes and posted comedic homemade videos on YouTube. The military didn’t seem a natural fit.

But after his girlfriend got pregnant two years ago, he vowed to support her and the child by joining the Army. He was devastated when she had an abortion, his father said, and decided to enlist anyway. Boot camp changed him.

“He went from not caring about nothing to knowing he had responsibilities,” his father, Donald Fitzgibbon, 39, said. “All in a matter of months.”

The day the three men died began with a reconnaissance patrol along dirt paths lined by grape arbors in a place called Mushan Village. By 8:30 a.m., the temperature was already over 100 degrees. After resting in the shade of a mud-brick compound, the soldiers gave brief chase to a pair of suspicious-looking men. But their sergeant ordered them to fall back, worrying about an I.E.D. trap. A few minutes later, Private Fitzgibbon stepped on the pressure plate.

One of the first medics on the scene was Private Fitzgibbon’s best friend in the unit. For weeks afterward, the medic felt ripped by guilt because he could not save Private Fitzgibbon or Corporal Walls. Mr. Fitzgibbon tried to ease his grief, telling him: “God knows when it’s your turn.”

Now and again the private’s father consoles himself with the same thought.

“I feel he would have died whether he was here or in Afghanistan, and that gives me peace with it,” Mr. Fitzgibbon said. “But I still have my good days and bad days.”


“A Resilient Insurgency”

Just as Private Fitzgibbon’s platoon was making its first forays into Kandahar province last year, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, was dispatching a team of experts to review American strategy.

As the group traveled the country last June, they were troubled by how little American intelligence officers seemed to know about local conditions, some of the members said in interviews later. The Taliban had established shadow governors in many provinces and were waging intimidation campaigns against village leaders who defied them.

Yet American commanders did not seem to have answers to some basic questions, group members said. How many district governors spend the nights in their districts? How many police checkpoints are manned on a given day? No one seemed to know.

To many on the panel, the poor intelligence was a sign that American forces could not secure their operating areas and lacked strong relationships with local leaders.

Their final report, endorsed by General McChrystal, concluded that “the situation in Afghanistan is serious” and that American forces faced “a resilient and growing insurgency.”

The solution, many panel members felt, was to increase the presence of American troops. They argued that the situation could be reversed with a new commitment to protecting population centers, a strategy known as counterinsurgency.

Not all of the members agreed. Some argued that sending more troops would simply increase civilian casualties and ultimately aid Taliban recruiting.

“McChrystal’s assessment of what went wrong is accurate but his solution is 180-degrees wrong,” said one of the dissenters, Luis Peral, a research fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies in Paris, in a recent interview.

But that view did not prevail. Under General McChrystal’s signature, the final report landed on Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ desk on Aug. 30.

The next day, three more American soldiers died in southern Afghanistan.


‘To Grow Me Up’

Pfc. Jordan Brochu was one of them.

An adopted child, he had lived in many places but carried himself with a confidence, some said swagger, that belied the disruptions in his life. Perhaps it was his build: 6-foot-1 and muscular, he was a natural athlete who threw the discus for the first time as a senior in high school yet still qualified for the state championships.

But he had another side as well, writing poetry, playing the violin — lovingly, if not proficiently — and cooking. He considered becoming a chef, but jobs were scarce in western Maine, where he attended high school. So upon graduating in 2008, he chose the Army, “to help make a difference and to grow me up,” he declared on his MySpace page.

Before deploying to Afghanistan last year, his culinary arts teacher asked him for a photograph to hang in the classroom as a reminder of the war. With a smile and a touch of bravado, Private Brochu declined.

“Don’t stress it Mr. B,” he told the teacher, Eric Botka. “I’ll see you when I get home.”

On Aug. 31, while Private Brochu was on foot patrol in the Arghandab River Valley of Kandahar Province, a mine detonated and killed him at the age of 20, along with another soldier, Specialist Jonathan D. Welch. Before the day was over, a third soldier from their unit, the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment out of Fort Lewis, Wash., would be killed. By this week, the battalion had lost 21 soldiers in Afghanistan in less than a year.

Raised in Orange County, Calif., Specialist Welch, 19, was from a close-knit, deeply Christian family. But he rebelled in his freshman year of high school, drinking heavily, using methamphetamine and living on the streets for weeks before his parents sent him to a rehabilitation clinic in Mexico.

When he was 17, Specialist Welch and a good friend decided to visit a military recruiting station. His friend joined the Navy but Specialist Welch chose the Army, declaring, “I just want to shoot a gun.” His parents grudgingly consented.

“You see your child so lost with the drugs, and then you see him saying: ‘I’m passionate about this,’ ” recalled his father, Ben Storll, 47. “The only thing he was passionate about before was punk rock music.”

In Afghanistan, he became close to his fire team leader, Sgt. Drew McComber, who was badly wounded in the explosion that killed Specialist Welch. In a letter to the specialist’s parents, Sergeant McComber described the soldier as his “go-to guy for everything.”

“Thank you so much for supporting him through his wilder days when he was younger,” Sergeant McComber wrote from his hospital bed. “I’ve seen the pictures. He certainly has come a long ways in a very short time.”

    Grim Milestone: 1,000 Americans Dead, NYT, 18.5.2010,






Obama Visits Returning War Dead


October 30, 2009
The New York Times


President Obama traveled to Dover Air Force Base early Thursday morning, where he met with family members and paid his respects as the bodies of 18 Americans killed this week in Afghanistan were returned to the United States.

It was the president’s first trip to the Delaware air base, the main point of entry for the nation’s war dead to return home. The trip was a symbolic one for Mr. Obama — intended to convey the gravity of his decision as he moves closer to announcing whether he will send more troops to Afghanistan.

The overnight trip was not announced in advance. The president, wearing a dark suit and long overcoat, left the White House at 11:44 p.m. A small contingent of reporters and photographers accompanied Mr. Obama to Dover, where he arrived at 12:34 a.m. aboard Marine One. He returned to the South Lawn of the White House at 4:45 a.m.

October has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began eight years ago, with at least 55 troops killed in action. This week alone, about two dozen soldiers have died in attacks and accidents. The bodies returning to Dover Air Force Base shortly after midnight included seven Army soldiers and three agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration who were killed when their helicopter crashed on Monday in rural Afghanistan. The bodies of eight soldiers killed in an attack on Monday also arrived on an Air Force C-17.

On a clear fall morning, Mr. Obama boarded the back of the gray plane at 3:40 a.m., standing watch as Air Force Chaplain, Maj. Richard S. Bach, offered a brief prayer over the cases containing the remains of the 15 soldiers and three federal agents.

The family of Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, 29, of Terre Haute, Ind., agreed to have the transfer of his remains photographed early Thursday morning. The other families chose not to, officials said, under a new Pentagon policy that lifted an 18-year ban on media covering the return of U.S. service members killed in action if families provide permission.

As the Commander-in-chief stood on the darkened tarmac and saluted, the flag-draped case was unloaded from the cargo plane in what the military calls a “dignified transfer,” as six soldiers in white gloves and camouflage fatigues carried the remains in precision. Mr. Obama and uniformed officers stood at attention as the case was placed in a white mortuary van parked nearby.

The transfer of the bodies — a solemn, 15-minute proceeding — took place after Mr. Obama spent nearly two hours meeting privately with several family members in the chapel of the Air Force base.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, traveled with the president to Dover. He told reporters earlier that Mr. Obama was “probably getting to the end” of his decision-making process on his military plans for Afghanistan. The recent rise in violence would not necessarily influence the strategy, he said, but it was weighing on the president.

“The hardest task that he has on any given day is signing the condolence letter to a loved one who’s lost a son or a daughter or a husband, a wife, in Iraq or Afghanistan, or serving our country overseas,” Mr. Gibbs said.

The trip early Thursday morning came several hours after Mr. Obama signed a defense spending bill, which he said “reaffirms our commitment to our brave men and women in uniform and our wounded warriors.” Three days ago, Mr. Obama spoke to soldiers and Marines at a Naval Air Station in Florida, where he defended himself against critics who have suggested that he is taking too long to announce a new military strategy in Afghanistan.

“I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way,” Mr. Obama said.

The images and the sentiment of the president’s five-hour trip to Delaware were intended by the White House to convey to the nation that Mr. Obama was not making his Afghanistan decision lightly or in haste.

The president returned to the White House less than three hours before sunrise on Thursday morning. He will meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday, his seventh major session on Afghanistan since beginning his review.


Doug Mills contributed reporting from Dover, Del.

    Obama Visits Returning War Dead, NYT, 30.10.2009,






As wars' death toll nears 5,000,

Dover shows quiet dignity


19 July 2009
USA Today
By Rick Hampson


DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Tonight, as always, the passengers stop talking when the van makes a sharp left on the tarmac and rolls toward the rear hatch of the C-17 transport. Now they see its cargo: two gleaming, 7-foot-long aluminum cases, each covered with an American flag.

Aaron Fairbairn, 20, and Justin Casillas, 19, who met at Army basic training last year in Georgia and died together this Fourth of July in Afghanistan, rest side by side on a lonely runway under a nearly full moon.

Aaron's half-brother, Beau Beck, is in the van with other members of the two privates' families. They have traveled across the continent to witness one of war's rawest moments — the return of the fallen to native soil.

Since hearing the news, Beck has half-believed there had been a mistake, that Aaron wasn't really killed in a Taliban attack. But now, seeing the cases, he almost gasps. This was the kid to whom he'd spoken on the phone 72 hours ago.

"At first you don't want to believe it," he said. "You think, 'It's not true, it's not true.' But that sight made it true. It was final."

The nation is approaching a combined total of 5,000 military deaths in Iraq, where the pace of U.S. casualties is declining, and in Afghanistan, where it is rising. All the remains have come through this air base, site of the nation's largest mortuary.

Since April, journalists have been permitted to cover what the military calls "dignified transfers" of bodies from incoming flights to the mortuary. And, in a less-publicized change at the same time, the government began to pay for relatives' travel here for such arrivals.

News organizations' interest or ability to cover routine transfers quickly faded; only the Associated Press regularly assigns a photographer.

But relatives — who previously were not encouraged by the military to attend the arrivals and rarely did — now are coming to more than 70% of them.

On one level, the families' presence has changed nothing.

Each transfer is carried out with the same exacting choreography, regardless of who's watching. But in feel, if not form, their presence changes everything.

His brother's homecoming was the toughest sight of Beau Beck's 32 years, but he's glad he was there.

"There was this overwhelming sense of honor and respect. You didn't have to know those two kids on the flight line to feel that," Beck says.

The blue van pulls up behind the transport plane, 25 feet off the tail. To the left, through the tinted windows, the soldiers' relatives can see a few journalists standing on the tarmac.

Because the families will watch while standing on the other side of the van, the journalists can't see them.

Fairbairn's mother and sister would decline to discuss the transfer, and efforts to reach Casilla's relatives for comment were unsuccessful. Beau Beck later agreed to talk, explaining, "It was terrible, but it was amazing."


'The Dover Test'

During the Vietnam War, images of flag-draped cases arriving at Dover (and Travis Air Force Base in California, until 2001 the military's other domestic mortuary) symbolized the war's terrible cost.

After Vietnam, American leaders contemplating military action began referring to "the Dover Test:" How would Americans react to those grim sights on the air and in print?

During the Gulf War, the first Bush administration prohibited news media coverage of returning casualties, supposedly in the interest of privacy. When the policy continued during the Iraq war, critics cried coverup.In 2004, Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, said the fallen "are essentially snuck back into the country under the cover of night, so no one can see that their casket has arrived."

This year the Obama administration re-opened the arrivals to journalists, provided families approve. (About seven in 10 have.)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had expressed concern that if the news media covered transfers at Dover, relatives would feel compelled to attend — a financial hardship for some who lived far away. So his department decided to pay and help arrange travel, food and lodging for up to three people per family.

Beck was surprised by the offer, which he and his family quickly accepted.

To his right tonight on the tarmac is a white truck, waiting to move the transfer cases to the base mortuary. Beck thinks it looks like a bread truck.

Seven members of an Army ceremonial unit — six bearers and a team leader — march past him and up a ramp into the hold of the huge steel-gray aircraft.

They're joined by a chaplain, an Air Force colonel and an Army brigadier general from the Pentagon, Francis Mahon.

Mahon is director of the Army's Quadrennial Defense Review — a big-picture guy, who works far from the battlefield.

He's there because the Army chief of staff has ordered that a general officer be present for the arrival of every soldier's remains.

"This reminds you there are lives at the end of decisions," Mahon says. "Everything you do affects a soldier."

In 30 years in the Army, Mahon has seen a lot of pomp — 21-gun salutes, Taps, flag presentations. This is different.

It's not a ceremony, in military terminology, but a "dignified transfer."

The remains are not in coffins but "cases." They are escorted not by an honor guard, but a "carry team."

Everything is functional — no speeches, music or dress blues. The carry team wears camouflage fatigues, combat boots, black berets and, in one concession to ceremony, white gloves.

That, Beck thinks, is what makes this so powerful — it's so real.


'America cares deeply'

In the cargo hold, a chaplain, Maj. Klavens Noel, reads a prayer over the bodies of Fairbairn and Casillas, which have come from Afghanistan via Kuwait and Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

The families cannot hear but see heads bent in prayer as Noel begins: "Almighty God, we thank you for the freedom we enjoy in our nation as we welcome Privates Casillas and Fairbairn home this evening. We pray that they may rest in peace. We pray for their family members, that they may find comfort in knowing that America cares deeply. We pray for their comrades on the battlefield ..."

Time to move the cases. First is Casillas, a former high school football lineman from Dunnigan, Calif., who always played bigger than his 175 pounds, and played hurt if he had to.

Friends and former teachers recall the teen's patriotism — he hung a flag in his room — and passion for the military.

A month before he left for Afghanistan, he dropped by his high school. His coach, Roy Perkins, said he thought it was good to see someone achieve what he'd always wanted.

Packed with ice, his case weighs about 400 pounds. The team leader calls, "Ready, lift" and the team members, facing each other, grasp the case. On "Ready, up" they straighten, lifting it. On "Ready, face," three soldiers do a left face, the other three a right face. Now all are facing toward the tail and out into the night, toward the bread truck, whose doors are open, waiting.

On "Ready, step" the team moves forward toward the ramp.

On the ground, the colonel says "Present, arms!" His voice is low, crisp. Each military servicemember slowly lifts a right arm in salute — three seconds up — and holds it as the team carries the case 46 steps across the tarmac to the truck.

Their pace is exaggeratedly — almost agonizingly — slow.

The families stand behind a rope line, like outside a nightclub. They've been told not to try to come forward to touch the case. But they never take their eyes off it.

This is the moment in the transfer when knees buckle and hearts flutter, when children wail and mothers scream. Tonight, there are racking sobs — "the sounds that ring in my nights," says David Sparks, a military chaplain standing with the families.

Most of the relatives, he says, arrive on the flight line still in shock: "Someone's come to the door and told them something, but they don't really believe it until they see for themselves." They haven't even begun to grieve, so he doesn't go much beyond a greeting, a hug and, 'I'm so very sorry.' "

As the carry team approaches the truck, they stop, march in place, turn toward each other and, on the command, "Ready, step!" push the case forward into the truck and onto its metal rollers, which make a clanging sound as the case moves forward.

At the command, "Order, arms" salutes are lowered — three seconds down.

The team takes six steps back, does an about face and marches back to the plane for the second case — Aaron's.


'Always with a smile'

Aaron Fairbairn joined the Army because he wanted to make a difference, because he wanted to learn a skill and because he didn't really have any better options.

"He was just a nice kid — hard-working, fun-loving, always with a smile," Beck says. Because he was 12 years older and Aaron's biological father was "out of the picture," Beck says he felt as much like the kid's dad as his brother.

Aaron had drifted a bit after high school, working at a pizza shop and a car dealership. When Aaron told him he planned to enlist, Beck was surprised and unenthusiastic: It was wartime.

"He wasn't gung-ho," Beck recalls. "He was a pretty peaceful kid. He didn't want to fight unless he had to. He just wanted to do his job. ... He'd do what you told him to do, and he wouldn't show a lot of emotion."

Aaron left for Afghanistan in March and wound up at a combat post in the eastern province of Paktika. Except for one mission early on, he told his family that military life consisted mostly of post duty, watching videos they'd sent him and working out. He was never athletic but had bulked up to 155 pounds from his induction weight of 115, and boasted of bench-pressing 275 pounds.

Beck got a call from Aaron late Friday afternoon, July 3. Things were quiet; the action was down south, in Helmand province, where the Marines were on the march. If anything, he was a little bored.

Later that day, the Taliban attacked.

Saturday morning, an Army chaplain and sergeant were on his mother's porch in Aberdeen, Wash. When she saw them standing there, Shelley Masters thought that because it was Independence Day, maybe they were there to raise funds or something.

That night she, Beau and her 21-year-old daughter, Sascha, took the red-eye to Philadelphia.


Final salute

When the last case is placed in the bread truck, Senior Airman Joseph Holton must close the truck's door — given its symbolism, the most sensitive part of the ritual.

Transfer detail team members are selected by their predecessors, after watching them perform a test drill. Holton and another airman were chosen from a group of 40.

He must make unnaturally slow movements look natural, even though the tendency is to speed up — especially with the families and the news media watching, and his adrenaline pumping.

So as he walks, Holton later explains, he paces himself by counting in his head. He times his steps to his breathing — inhale on heel down, exhale on heel up. He moves so deliberately as to seem to extend time itself.

Without appearing to, Holton must brace for the unforeseen, such as a gust of wind that could blow the door shut.

He tries to block out anything that might distract him from the precise execution of his otherwise workaday task, including the families. Recently, a mother fell to the tarmac, pounding the ground and screaming, "Don't close the doors!"

Holton tries not to look, but he sees the relatives when he does a left face to close the left door and a right face to close the right door.

Finally, the doors are closed. When the driver turns the ignition, the colonel orders, "Present arms" to signal a final salute. The truck rolls forward. At "Order arms" the salutes are lowered.

The truck rolls slowly off to the mortuary, where the bodies will be scanned for explosives, checked for personal effects, positively identified, autopsied, embalmed, dressed in a blue Class A dress uniform bearing the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and airborne wings, and placed in a steel casket.

Back on the tarmac, Aaron Fairbairn's mother, brother and sister form a tight circle, hugging and sobbing. Their soldier is home.




Toll of Iraq, Afghanistan wars

Milestones in the combined U.S. death tolls for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Death Milestones Iraq death toll Afghanistan death toll

1,000 deaths/ July 24, 2004 909 91

2,000/ Aug. 8, 2005 1,832 171

3,000/ Oct. 4, 2006 2,729 271

4,000/ Aug. 5, 2007 3,654 348

4,996/ Friday 4,328 668

Source: Defense Department

Contributing: Paul Overberg

    As wars' death toll nears 5,000, Dover shows quiet dignity, UT, 19.7.2009,






Families of dead soldiers sue MoD

over 'vulnerable' Snatch Land Rovers


June 19, 2009
From Times Online
Deborah Haynes, Defence Correspondent


The families of four soldiers killed by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan are suing the Ministry of Defence, claiming that the lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers their loved ones died in should never have been on the frontline.

Their lawyers want the relatives of other servicemen and women killed or injured in the combat vehicle to come forward as they too might be eligible to seek damages.

Karla and Courtney Ellis, the sister and eight-year-old daughter of Private Lee Ellis, 23, today became the fourth family officially to serve a claim. Private Ellis was killed in a roadside bomb in southern Iraq in February 2006.

Lawyer Jocelyn Cockburn, of Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “It is a claim for negligence and under the Human Rights Act that the Snatch Land Rovers were too vulnerable to the roadside bombs and other explosives used by the insurgents, and should never have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Her firm is also representing the other three families who have issued claims since last year against the MoD, on behalf of Marine Gary Wright, who died in Afghanistan in October 2006, Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, who was killed in Iraq in August 2007 and Private Phillip Hewett, 21, who also died in Iraq in July 2005.

“If there are other families of those killed or even injured in a Snatch who think they may have a claim, they should get in touch,” Ms Cockburn told The Times.

Once all cases are served they will be put on hold until the High Court makes a decision on whether the Secretary of State for Defence was wrong to refuse last year to hold a public inquiry into the Snatch Land Rover.

A preliminary request for a judicial review is due to be held in the next two or three months.

The families believe the combat vehicles lack sufficient armour and the Defence Ministry should never have allowed their continued use. Snatch Land Rovers are good for providing quick transportation but do not offer the same protection against bomb blasts as the better-armoured Mastif.

A Ministry of Defence Spokesman said: “Over the past 14 months, the MoD has received four compensation claims following deaths involving Snatch landrovers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MoD pays compensation wherever there is a liability to do so. In these cases we remain profoundly aware of the enduring grief of the four families who lost their loved ones in combat."

Over the past four years at least 37 military personnel have been killed in Snatch Land Rovers during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The toll raised concerns about the protection the vehicles provide against the threat of roadside bombs - the greatest risk in both conflict zones.

A former senior SAS officer in Afghanistan, who resigned from his post last October, has said the Government has “blood on its hands” over the deaths of four soldiers killed when their Snatch Land Rover hit an anti-tank mine in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan in June 2008.

Among the dead was Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British servicewoman to die in the country.

Major Sebastian Morley said army commanders and Whitehall officials ignored his warnings that “unsafe” vehicles would lead to the deaths of soldiers.

Ms Cockburn hopes that a landmark Court of Appeal decision last month that troops serving overseas were covered by the Human Rights Act even in the battlefield would help to strengthen the families’ cases.

    Families of dead soldiers sue MoD over 'vulnerable' Snatch Land Rovers,
    Ts, 19.6.2009,






‘They Answered a Call,’

Obama Says of Veterans


May 26, 2009
The New York Times


ARLINGTON, Va. — President Obama observed Memorial Day on Monday just as his predecessors had, by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns here.

But Mr. Obama added a twist: he sent a second wreath to a memorial honoring blacks who fought in the Civil War.

“They felt some tug; they answered a call; they said, ‘I’ll go,’ ” Mr. Obama said after the wreath-laying ceremony in a 12-minute address paying tribute to veterans and fallen soldiers. “That is why they are the best of America, and that is what separates them from those of us who have not served in uniform: their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met.”

The president asked all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. on Monday for a moment of “national unity” to honor the war dead. “I ask you to ring a bell, or offer a prayer, say a silent ‘thank you,’ ” Mr. Obama said, “and commit to give something back to this nation, something lasting, in their memory.”

Presidents since Warren G. Harding have commemorated Memorial Day by visiting Arlington National Cemetery, where white rows of tombstones represent more than seven generations of America’s war dead. But with the nation’s first African-American president in office, a race-related controversy erupted over Mr. Obama’s appearance this year.

Last week, a group of university professors petitioned the White House to end a longstanding practice of sending a wreath to a monument to Confederate soldiers on the cemetery grounds. The petitioners, including William Ayers, the University of Illinois at Chicago education professor whose acquaintance with Mr. Obama has been controversial, said the monument was “intended as a symbol of white nationalism” and gave “encouragement to the modern neo-Confederate movement.”

Despite the professors’ call for him to “break this chain of racism,” Mr. Obama continued the Confederate monument wreath tradition. But he also started another, the White House said, by sending a second wreath across the Potomac River to the historically black neighborhood in Washington where the African American Civil War Memorial commemorates more than 200,000 blacks who fought for the North in the Civil War.

A 21-gun salute, the honor accorded all heads of state, greeted Mr. Obama upon his arrival here. After placing the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the president arrived at the ceremony’s majestic marble-columned amphitheater, where, against the backdrop of three giant American flags, he paid tribute to “those who paid the ultimate price so that we may know freedom.”

Mr. Obama did not mention the wreath-laying controversy in his remarks to the 4,000 veterans and family members in the audience. In one of the few passages that brought applause from the crowd, he spoke of his appreciation for being commander in chief despite not having served.

“My grandfather served in Patton’s Army in World War II; I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m the father of two young girls, but I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a child. These are things I cannot know. But I do know this: I am humbled to be the commander in chief of the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

Before the ceremony, Mr. Obama had a private breakfast at the White House with families of soldiers who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the ceremony the president went to play golf at Fort Belvoir, Va. He was on the course at 3 p.m., during the moment of national unity he had called for. The White House said he paused for a moment of silent prayer.

    ‘They Answered a Call,’ Obama Says of Veterans, NYT, 26.5.2009,






Autopsies of War Dead

Reveal Ways to Save Others


May 26, 2009
The New York Times


Within an hour after the bodies arrive in their flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base, they go through a process that has never been used on the dead from any other war.

Since 2004, every service man and woman killed in Iraq or Afghanistan has been given a CT scan, and since 2001, when the fighting began in Afghanistan, all have had autopsies, performed by pathologists in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. In previous wars, autopsies on people killed in combat were uncommon, and scans were never done.

The combined procedures have yielded a wealth of details about injuries from bullets, blasts, shrapnel and burns — information that has revealed deficiencies in body armor and vehicle shielding and led to improvements in helmets and medical equipment used on the battlefield.

The military world initially doubted the usefulness of scanning corpses but now eagerly seeks data from the scans, medical examiners say, noting that on a single day in April, they received six requests for information from the Defense Department and its contractors.

“We’ve created a huge database that’s never existed before,” said Capt. Craig T. Mallak, 48, a Navy pathologist and lawyer who is chief of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, a division of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

The medical examiners have scanned about 3,000 corpses, more than any other institution in the world, creating a minutely detailed and permanent three-dimensional record of combat injuries. Although the scans are sometimes called “virtual autopsies,” they do not replace old-fashioned autopsies. Rather, they add information and can help guide autopsies and speed them by showing pathologists where to look for bullets or shrapnel, and by revealing fractures and tissue damage so clearly that the need for lengthy dissection is sometimes eliminated. The examiners try to remove as many metal fragments as possible, because the pieces can yield information about enemy weapons.

One discovery led to an important change in the medical gear used to stabilize injured troops on the battlefield.

Col. Howard T. Harcke, a 71-year-old Marine Corps radiologist who delayed retirement to read CT scans at Dover, noticed something peculiar in late 2005. The emergency treatment for a collapsed lung involves inserting a needle and tube into the chest cavity to relieve pressure and allow the lung to reinflate. But in one case, Colonel Harcke could see from a scan that the tube was too short to reach the chest cavity. Then he saw another case, and another, and half a dozen more.

In an interview, Colonel Harcke said it was impossible to tell whether anyone had died because the tubes were too short; all had other severe injuries. But a collapsed lung can be life-threatening, so proper treatment is essential.

Colonel Harcke pulled 100 scans from the archives and used them to calculate the average thickness of the chest wall in American troops; he found that the standard tubing, five centimeters long, was too short for 50 percent of the troops. If the tubing was lengthened to eight centimeters, it would be long enough for 99 percent.

“Soldiers are bigger and stronger now,” Colonel Harcke said.

The findings were presented to the Army Surgeon General, who in August 2006 ordered that the kits given to combat medics be changed to include only the longer tubing.

“I was thrilled,” Colonel Harcke said.

The medical examiners also discovered that troops were dying from wounds to the upper body that could have been prevented by body armor that covered more of the torso and shoulders. The information, which became public in 2006, led the military to scramble to ship more armor plates to Iraq.

It was Captain Mallak who decided that autopsies should be performed on all troops killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Federal law gives him that authority.

“Families want a full accounting,” he said. During World War II and the Vietnam War, he explained, families were told simply that their loved one had died in service of their country.

“Personally, I felt that families would no longer just accept that,” Captain Mallak said.

The examiner’s office has not publicized the autopsy policy and has not often discussed it. Families are informed that autopsies are being performed and that they can request a copy of the report. Occasionally, families object, but the autopsy is done anyway. About 85 percent to 90 percent of families request the reports, and 10 percent also ask for photographs from the autopsy, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the medical examiner system. Relatives are also told they can call or e-mail the medical examiners with questions.

“Every day, families come back for more information,” Captain Mallak said. “The No. 1 question they want to know is, ‘Did my loved one suffer?’ If we can say, ‘No, it was instantaneous, he or she never knew what happened,’ they do get a great sense of relief out of that. But we don’t lie.”

Indeed, the reports are sent with cover letters urging the families not to read them alone.

The possibility that a relative burned to death is a particular source of anguish for families, and one area in which CT can outperform an autopsy. In a body damaged by flames, CT can help pathologists figure out whether the burns occurred before or after death. The scans can also tell whether a person found in water died from drowning. Families who request the autopsy reports often put off reading them, said Ami Neiberger-Miller, a spokeswoman for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit group for people who have lost relatives in war.

“I think people feel, ‘We should request it; we may not want to read it today, but we may want to read it 10 years from now,’ ” Ms. Neiberger-Miller said. Her brother was killed in Baghdad in 2007, she said, and her family has never opened his autopsy report.

Liz Sweet, whose 23-year-old son, T. J., committed suicide in Iraq in 2003, requested his autopsy report and read it.

“For our family, we needed it,” Mrs. Sweet said. “I just felt better knowing I had that report.” T. J. Sweet’s coffin was closed, so Mrs. Sweet asked Captain Mallak for a photograph taken before the autopsy, to prove to herself that it really was her son who had died.

“He was one of the most compassionate people throughout this whole process that I dealt with from the Department of Defense,” Mrs. Sweet said of Captain Mallak.

The scans and autopsies are done in a 70,000-square-foot facility at the Dover base that is both a pathology laboratory and a mortuary. Journalists are not allowed inside. The CT scanning began in 2004, when it was suggested and paid for by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, part of the Defense Department. Darpa got the idea of using CT scanners to perform virtual autopsies from Switzerland, where it started about 10 years ago.

Now the idea of virtual autopsies has begun to catch on with medical examiners in this country, who are eager to use it in murder cases but also to learn the cause of death in people from religious groups that forbid traditional autopsies. Scans can also help pathologists plan limited autopsies if a family finds a complete one too invasive.

John Getz, the program manager for the Armed Forces medical examiners, said mobile CT scanners could also be used to screen mass casualties during disasters like Hurricane Katrina, to help with identification and also to determine if any of the dead were the victims of crimes rather than accidents.

The Armed Forces CT scanner, specially designed to scan entire corpses one after another, is the envy of medical examiners and crime laboratories around the country, and several states have asked Captain Mallak and his colleagues for advice on setting up scanners.

Colonel Harcke said he hoped the technology would help to increase the autopsy rates at civilian hospitals, which now perform them only 5 percent to 10 percent of the time.

“We hope to return to a time where we were 50 years ago,” he said, “when autopsies were an important part of the medical model, and we continued to learn after death.”

    Autopsies of War Dead Reveal Ways to Save Others, NYT, 25.5.2009,






Officials: Pentagon OKs

Media Photos of War Dead


February 26, 2009
Filed at 12:57 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- News organizations will be allowed to photograph the homecomings of America's war dead under a new Pentagon policy, defense and congressional officials said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to allow photos of flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base, Del., if the families of the fallen troops agree, the officials told The Associated Press.

Gates planned to announce his decision later Thursday, they said. The current ban was put in place in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.

At least two Democratic senators have called on President Barack Obama to let news photographers attend ceremonies at the air base and other military facilities when military remains are returned to the United States. The Dover base is where casualties are brought before they are transferred on to the hometowns of their families.

Gates told reporters earlier this month that he was reviewing the policy and that if the needs of the families could be met, and the privacy concerns could be addressed, he favored honoring fallen troops as much as possible.

Gates said he initially asked for the ban to be reviewed a year ago, and was advised then that family members might feel uncomfortable with opening the ceremonies to media for privacy reasons or that the relatives might feel pressure to attend the services despite financial stresses.

Shortly after Obama took office, Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey also asked the White House to roll back the 1991 ban.

Over the years, some exceptions to the policy were made, allowing the media to photograph coffins in some cases, until the administration of President George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A leading military families group has said that the policy, enforced without exception during George W. Bush's presidency, should be changed so that survivors of the dead can decide whether photographers can record their return.

As of Wednesday, at least 4,251 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

As of Tuesday, at least 584 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. The department last updated its figures Friday at 10 a.m. EST.

    Officials: Pentagon OKs Media Photos of War Dead, NYT, 26.2.2009,






For some military families,

a long goodbye


10 November 2008
USA Today
By Gregg Zoroya


Harold and Mary Mowl were shocked by what they saw when they first visited their son, Kevin, in the intensive care unit at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

A 150-pound bomb had exploded under Kevin's vehicle in Baghdad on Aug. 2, 2007. The blast broke his left arm and leg, his back, ankles and feet. His face was swollen; his eye sockets, nose and jaw were shattered. Doctors later removed some of his skull to allow his brain to swell.

"We didn't know where to touch him," Harold Mowl said.

Clearly, the 21-year-old son he had brought up in Upstate New York had been largely erased by the roadside blast that killed three other soldiers and wounded 11, the father said. The massive brain damage had taken so much away.

"If he recovered, he would be someone else," Harold said. "We said to each other right away: 'We will take care of him no matter what.' "

Kevin Mowl and critically wounded troops like him are symbols of a new type of war casualty on this sixth Veterans Day since the United States invaded Iraq. They are wounded troops who probably would have died on the battlefield in conflicts of previous generations, but thanks to advances in emergency medical care by the military, they come home alive. More than a dozen have lingered for months or even years before dying, usually of infection.

It's a situation that puts families, doctors and military officials in the difficult position of balancing slim hopes of a partial recovery with the desire not to see their loved one, patient and servicemember suffer any more.

"These families have had their hearts wrenched out of them," Marine Lt. Col. Grant Olbrich says of the relatives of the most severely wounded troops. Until recently, Olbrich was an advocate for families of severely burned patients as part of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.

Families are "looking at the choices and saying, 'What should I pray for?' " Olbrich says. " 'Should I pray that my child dies quickly and doesn't suffer anymore? Or should I pray that they survive and have as normal a life as possible?' "

Kevin Mowl's case was typical — months of desperate treatment, brief hope for his family, and then death in February.

"This is not your father's war. The families now are involved almost literally from the point of injury," says Philip Perdue, trauma surgeon and chief of general surgery at Bethesda naval hospital and the doctor who treated Kevin Mowl.

"They see their loved ones in the ICU with the breathing tubes, as sick as can be. … They're at the bedside all day long. Sometimes, the patients don't get better. And they see the person across the way get better. And they see someone else come and go. And it's very wearing."

The Army and Marine Corps have created programs aimed at helping relatives of severely wounded servicemembers. Patient advocates from each service's wounded warrior program work with non-profit groups to pay for family transportation and find lodging for extended family and friends.

"When something happens (to a servicemember), it's like a member of the family getting hurt, especially the critically injured. Because you see them suffer and you see them fight," says Marine Col. Gregory Boyle, commander of the Wounded Warrior Regiment.

Despite such programs, family members of severely wounded servicemembers "don't know what they're stepping into," Olbrich says.

For the Mowls, doctors at the Naval Hospital encouraged them to give their son a chance to get better, Harold Mowl says.

The doctors said the brain remains a mysterious organ with untapped capacity for some recovery.

"We wanted Kevin to have every opportunity to succeed," Harold says, adding that his son's doctors never talked about a major setback until the very end, when Kevin began to fail quickly after seven months of treatment.

"That last day," the father says, "we agreed to just let him go."

Helping families cope

Harold Mowl, 61, is superintendent of the Rochester (N.Y.) School for the Deaf and the third generation of his family born without hearing. He and his wife were interviewed for this story through a sign-language interpreter.

Mary Mowl, 57, also is deaf, and is a volunteer executive directorof a group that advocates for abused deaf people.

Their children, Carlene and Kevin, were born with normal hearing and learned sign language before they could speak, first signaling words such as "milk," "water" and "sleep."

After Kevin was wounded, Bethesda Naval Hospital hired interpreters to help the Mowls every day at an overall cost of $60,000.

Jeannie Jones-Flanagan, a family advocate from the Army Wounded Warrior Program, tapped military and charitable resources to pay for the Mowls' lodging, travel, meals, laundry, medications and myriad other expenses as Mary moved onto the hospital campus to be with her son and Harold traveled there every weekend.

"I'm helping them take care of their business, get through the day, work through situations, make small decisions, sometimes make big decisions," Jones-Flanagan says. "It's a lot of networking, knowing people in certain departments so that you can cut through the red tape and get things done."

She and other advocates are backed by staffs of soldiers, social workers, chaplains and mental health caregivers.

They work with charitable groups to cover mortgage payments, utility bills, lost income and family medical needs.

The government covers daily expenses and lodging for up to three family members attending in-patient relatives.

Advocates must arrange charitable support for extended family and friends.

"What is new for the (advocates) is that they've been in place long enough now to get the system down and be more effective case managers and advocates," says Liza Biggers, whose brother, Ethan, lived for a year after he was shot in the head by a sniper in 2006. She is an appointee to a Department of Veterans Affairs committee examining the treatment of wounded.

"Being in the military medical system is incredibly complicated," Biggers says.

"It's absolutely essential to have someone help navigate the veterans and their families through it."

A message from the Army

Spc. Kevin Mowl was about six weeks into an extension on a year of duty in Iraq when insurgents detonated 150 pounds of explosives inside a storm drain under the Stryker vehicle in which he was riding Aug. 2, 2007. The Stryker was ripped apart and overturned.

The next day, Harold and Mary Mowl returned from her first trip to Europe when they found a torn slip of paper in the door of their home in Pittsford, N.Y., outside Rochester. Scribbled words said to call the Army.

Using a video interpreter service provided by the phone company, Harold Mowl used sign language to speak with an operator who made the call. He learned that his son was "seriously hurt" and heading home.

He called his daughter, Carlene, 25, in Manhattan. The operator passed along the news to Carlene. Harold Mowl watched the operator sign back, drawing imaginary lines down her cheeks. She was saying his daughter was weeping into the phone.

The Army flew Harold, Mary and Carlene to Washington, put them up in the Navy Lodge, a hotel on the hospital campus and provided each $64 in expense money for every day they were there.

Harold Mowl commuted to Bethesda every weekend or whenever his son was in surgery. His son underwent 12 major operations and countless lesser procedures, Perdue says.

Carlene arrived every other weekend. Two charities, Operation Hero Miles and Air Compassion for Veterans, used donated frequent-flyer miles to buy the Mowls' airline tickets.

The non-profit Armed Forces Foundation covered lodging for Kevin Mowl's grandmother, Jane "Betty" Mowl, and extended family and friends who visited.

Navy doctors worked for weeks mending Kevin Mowl's many fractures and defeating multiple infections in his body.

Like other severely wounded servicemembers, Kevin Mowl could not speak because of a tracheotomy that helped him breathe. But he could sign.

Doctors watched with amazement as he communicated, confusingly at first, but then in periods of lucidness, with his hands.

It was rare insight into a brain-damaged patient's progress, doctors told Harold Mowl.

In a blog they began to discuss Kevin's situation, family members seized on such reasons for hope.

An entry from Sept. 1, 2007, says, "Today was a most exciting day for us … he flashed an 'I love you' to Carlene."

'He is very quiet'

Kevin was in ICU for five months before he was moved to a ward, to the frustration and exhaustion of his family.

"Kevin continues to be a mixed bag psychosocially," his father blogged last January. "He is very quiet, and he does not respond consistently."

"We often asked the doctor what would be his quality of life," Mary Mowl recalls. "They couldn't give the answer, but they were optimistic."

She remained with her son every day, preparing her own meals in the kitchenette in her hotel room or lunching at the hospital's restaurant.

In January, she moved to a hotel in Richmond, Va., paid for by the Army, when Kevin entered a rehabilitation program at a VA clinic there.

The end was very fast: infection.

Kevin Mowl had been returned to Bethesda for brain surgery. A week later, he was wracked by fever and growing weaker. It was sepsis.

Doctors told the family that recovery was nearly impossible. Kevin had previously signed a do-not-resuscitate order. His father directed that life support be removed.

Kevin died Feb. 25.

"We got to see him a little bit longer," Harold says of the anxiety the family endured during Kevin's treatment.

"I wanted to see the doctors taking care of him. I wanted to see him taking every chance to succeed. It was not successful. OK. I think, for me, that was better than getting a call saying that he died."

His wife nods in agreement.

"It's hard," says Carlene Mowl, "because you're in between" a combat death and survival.

"In one sense, it's nice to have the time to say goodbye on your own terms," she says.

"But it's also hard to watch somebody try so hard to get better and then just not make it."

    For some military families, a long goodbye, UT, 10.11.2008,






Stories of loss

and love from families of army's fallen

The number of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 297 this month. Behind each returning coffin are ordinary families destroyed by grief – mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters and children mourning their loved ones. Over the past month Dan McDougall has interviewed many of the relatives of the 'Fallen' to coincide with a BBC documentary chronicling the suffering of the families. This is their story


Sunday November 2 2008
The Observer
Dan McDougall
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday November 02 2008 on p8 of the News section.
It was last updated at 00.02 on November 02 2008.


'I think about the families, and a life torn apart'

The locals line up pints of bitter at the Kings Head bar in Droylsden, Greater Manchester. Behind the till Ronnie Downes, 60, reads his son's last letter home. Outside the pub hangs a huge picture of Tony and the words: 'Tony: Our son, Everyone's Hero'.

Guardsman Neil 'Tony' Downes, aged 20, was travelling with the Afghan National Army close to the town of Sangin in Helmand province when their vehicle was hit by an explosion.

Before going out to Afghanistan, Tony wrote his family a letter to be opened in the event of his death. Standing in their pub, Ronnie recites passages: 'I love you all from the bottom of my heart. Please don't be mad at what has happened. I did what I had to do, and serving the British army was it. Don't be sad - celebrate my life, because I love you and I will see you all again.' As he finishes, Ronnie falters and breaks down in tears.

'What amazed me most was that my mum and dad were really strong. That really brought us together as a family,' says Ronnie's eldest daughter, Katie, 21. 'My mum campaigned for the soldiers, for the job they were and are doing out there in Afghanistan and Iraq, and inspired us all. Everyone expected her to be the other way. She urged the government not to bring troops home - because it would mean Tony died in vain.

'Tony loved serving with the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. He died doing something he loved. It doesn't stop our pain, but it comforts us to know how fulfilled he was in his career and life as a soldier. My brother had only been in Afghanistan for 12 weeks and was due to return home on 28 June 2007. That date became the date of his funeral.'

Katie says the hardest thing was listening to her brother's letter: 'I think about what must have gone through his head when he was writing that, knowing that he could die.

'Before he left for good, and I remember this vividly, he was packing up one of his huge rucksacks and out popped two letters, from the top of his bag. They both said: "Not to be opened unless deceased." I remember catching my breath as I saw the writing on the envelope.

'My brother was the 60th member of the armed forces to die in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November, 2001, and for the first time it really made me think about what all those other families have gone through and all the families since - each death of a child, a brother, a husband, a boyfriend or a father, a life torn apart.'

The soldier's younger sister, Jodie, 17, describes how she now visits her brother's grave more than ever. 'I talk to him in the cemetery. Sometimes I stand, other times I kneel down and talk to him like he is there,' she says. 'Some days I cry; other days I just pass the time of day. I feel silly and self-conscious speaking to a grave, but whenever I look around, nobody is paying the slightest bit of attention. There are other people there at the gravesides, crying and mourning in their own way, talking to their loved ones and praying. It is definitely therapeutic.'

She adds: 'What has helped me above everything is knowing he is in a better place, a happy place, in heaven. It may sound daft, but I believe angels are looking after him up there, and he is looking down on me and probably laughing at me crying. If he could speak he would probably just laugh and tell me not to be so daft.

'Losing my big brother has definitely brought me closer to all my siblings and to mum and dad. In some ways it makes you special having a brother as a war hero; people look at you and feel sorry for you, but also admire what you have gone through.

'I am only young, but what I do know is I never want to feel pain like this again. I have cried enough now.'

'I couldn't bear to see his coffin in the flag'

St George flags hang limp in the suburban gardens of Eltham in south-east London. Inside her family home, Ruth Rayment, left, sits in front of an electric fire, her knees scrunched up around her neck. She is surrounded by army memorabilia that belonged to her brother, Christopher.

'I was 16 when he died,' says the nursing student, now 20. 'When the men in uniform came knocking on my door, we knew what it was straight away. I remember my mother screaming and collapsing in the front room, I will never forget the wailing.'

Christopher Rayment, a private with the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, died aged 22 when a security barrier fell on him while he was manning a checkpoint. He had been in Iraq for more than five months and died just 10 days before he was due to return home to his parents, Pamela and Gordon. Four years on his room remains virtually untouched.

'Everyone expected it to hit me hardest, but I didn't mourn for a year,' says Ruth. 'I started crying on the anniversary of Chris's death - that's when the trauma hit me. It came like a black cloud; it consumed me, and I realised I was depressed. I kept hearing my brother's voice. His presence wasn't frightening, just permanent.'

Ruth thinks her decision not to go to Brize Norton to watch her brother's body arrive back in the UK contributed to what she calls 'suspended reality'.

'For me he was still out there, in Afghanistan, patrolling as a soldier,' she says. 'That's what I convinced myself of, anyway, that he wasn't coming back because he was still out there.

'I think this feeling was because I couldn't bear to see him come back, to see his coffin in the flag. When the realisation he was gone finally hit me, a year later, it felt like I'd been hit by a huge black wave, like a tsunami, and the water was pouring into my ears and nose, suffocating me. It was the most terrifying experience of my life.'

Ruth's sister, Mandy, 29, says her experience of Chris's death was different. She went to Brize Norton to see his body arrive. 'I can honestly say it was the proudest, and in a strange way the happiest, moment of my life,' she says. 'I sent Chris a little charm to take to Afghanistan, a little St Christopher, and it was returned with his body. I keep it with me at all times now.'

Both sisters share a strong sense of spirituality and, like many relatives of the 'Fallen', Mandy has started seeing a clairvoyant. The medium, she claims, brings her closer to her brother's spirit. That is why she finds it hard to visit his grave; she thinks his soul is elsewhere: 'Since Chris died I've been going to church, and last week I was finally baptised. People might think I could be angry with God for what has happened to my family, but my belief in God helps me to come to terms with what has happened. It is his plan and my brother, in the middle of all of this, is in a happier place and is smiling down on us.'

'Daddy is happy in heaven eating crispy duck'

In her small room in the family semi in Wythenshawe, Manchester, seven-year-old Courtney Ellis, above, strums her guitar, singing a song she has written about her father, Private Lee Ellis. To the tune of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star', she sings 'I love daddy in the sky'.

Later she flicks through the album of photographs she keeps under her bed, images of her last holiday with her 23-year-old dad. Her favourite picture shows her father looking on as she opened her presents on Christmas Day.

A Para from 2nd Battalion, Ellis died on attachment to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Al Amarah, Maysaan province, when he was killed by a roadside bomb on 28 February 2006.

'This is a picture of our last holiday together,' says Courtney. 'Daddy is in heaven now, and although he is dead, he is happy. When someone dies and they are naughty, they go to hell. My mum says that my daddy is eating a lot of crispy duck in heaven. It was his favourite food, and he wouldn't share it, even though he is in heaven.'

'He brought us here. And now we are alone'

Saturday night television blares in the background as a crescendo of game show applause drowns out Camari Babakobau's faint voice. In mid-sentence she breaks down in tears and walks, head bowed, towards the front windows of her cramped barracks home. At her feet, her two young sons fight over the remote control, increasing the volume further as they clamour for her attention.

Outside, the rain is pounding the glass. 'The weather is the hardest thing about living in England,' says Camari. 'He brought us here from the islands - my man - to give us a future, and now he has left us. We are alone. This is an army house. We will lose it in two years and have to go elsewhere.'

On the wall of her lounge is an oversized portrait of her dead husband, Trooper Ratu Sakeasi Babakobau, in his Household Cavalry uniform. In the hallway, next to a calendar of the Pacific islands, is another photograph of the guardsman in desert fatigues; behind him, the scrubland of Afghanistan's Shomali Plain. It is the last picture taken of him before he died.

Next Sunday, Camari, 28, who lives on a bleak housing estate on the outskirts of Windsor, will be one of thousands laying wreaths at memorials around the country. Her husband was killed on 2 May 2008 in the Nowzad area of northern Helmand, the victim of a Taliban landmine.

Ratu's journey began in an MoD recruiting interview in Suva, Fiji's port capital. He was one of a growing foreign legion fighting for someone else's queen and country. He arrived in the UK in May 2004, and his first deployment overseas came four years later. But within a month of arriving in Afghanistan, the 29-year-old Fijian was dead. On the other side of the world, uniformed officers and a Household Cavalry chaplain were dispatched to Windsor to knock on Camari's door.

'Other wives and mothers tell me they knew when they opened the door and saw the uniformed officers standing on the doorstep,' she says. 'I didn't know. I didn't expect it, because I probably didn't understand how dangerous my husband's job was. I thought they had come to see me about my son's British citizenship. I couldn't stop crying.

'He returned six days later in a coffin with a foreign flag over his body,' says Camari. 'All I could think about was that my boys would never know their father; they would never play rugby with him, or be scolded for not doing their homework. To them, their father would be a photograph - not even a memory.

'The band played at Brize Norton and I stood there weeping, clutching my children's hands. The aircraft looked terrifying as it came in to land. I kept thinking, "Why is he in there, not breathing, his useless body coming back to me - for what?"

'Young Fijians join the British army for financial reasons, for citizenship, for an escape from poverty and island life. My husband made this choice. For what? We Fijians don't understand anything about foreign affairs. Sure, the money is good for us, but you only have one life. My children will be told their father was a hero, but maybe he was foolish. Maybe others who follow him from Fiji are foolish.'

• The Fallen is a three-hour film in which families and friends

of the soldiers who have died

talk about their feelings and grief.

It will be broadcast at 8pm on Saturday 15 November

on BBC2.1

    Stories of loss and love from families of army's fallen, O, 2.11.2008,






4,000 U.S. Combat Deaths,

and Just a Handful of Images


July 26, 2008
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — The case of a freelance photographer in Iraq who was barred from covering the Marines after he posted photos on the Internet of several of them dead has underscored what some journalists say is a growing effort by the American military to control graphic images from the war.

Zoriah Miller, the photographer who took images of marines killed in a June 26 suicide attack and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of the country. Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world. Mr. Miller has since left Iraq.

If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given to journalists — too much, many critics said, as the war played out nightly in bloody newscasts — the Iraq war may mark an opposite extreme: after five years and more than 4,000 American combat deaths, searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.

It is a complex issue, with competing claims often difficult to weigh in an age of instant communication around the globe via the Internet, in which such images can add to the immediate grief of families and the anger of comrades still in the field.

While the Bush administration faced criticism for overt political manipulation in not permitting photos of flag-draped coffins, the issue is more emotional on the battlefield: local military commanders worry about security in publishing images of the American dead as well as an affront to the dignity of fallen comrades. Most newspapers refuse to publish such pictures as a matter of policy.

But opponents of the war, civil liberties advocates and journalists argue that the public portrayal of the war is being sanitized and that Americans who choose to do so have the right to see — in whatever medium — the human cost of a war that polls consistently show is unpopular with Americans.

Journalists say it is now harder, or harder than in the earlier years, to accompany troops in Iraq on combat missions. Even memorial services for killed soldiers, once routinely open, are increasingly off limits. Detainees were widely photographed in the early years of the war, but the Department of Defense, citing prisoners’ rights, has recently stopped that practice as well.

And while publishing photos of American dead is not barred under the “embed” rules in which journalists travel with military units, the Miller case underscores what is apparently one reality of the Iraq war: that doing so, even under the rules, can result in expulsion from covering the war with the military.

“It is absolutely censorship,” Mr. Miller said. “I took pictures of something they didn’t like, and they removed me. Deciding what I can and cannot document, I don’t see a clearer definition of censorship.”

The Marine Corps denied it was trying to place limits on the news media and said Mr. Miller broke embed regulations. Security is the issue, officials said.

“Specifically, Mr. Miller provided our enemy with an after-action report on the effectiveness of their attack and on the response procedures of U.S. and Iraqi forces,” said Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a Marine spokesman.

News organizations say that such restrictions are one factor in declining coverage of the war, along with the danger, the high cost to financially ailing media outlets and diminished interest among Americans in following the war. By a recent count, only half a dozen Western photographers were covering a war in which 150,000 American troops are engaged.

In Mr. Miller’s case, a senior military official in Baghdad said that while his photographs were still under review, a preliminary assessment showed he had not violated ground rules established by the multinational force command. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, emphasized that Mr. Miller was still credentialed to work in Iraq, though several military officials acknowledged that no military unit would accept him.

Robert H. Reid, the Baghdad bureau chief for The Associated Press, said one major problem was a disconnection between the officials in Washington who created the embed program before the war and the soldiers who must accommodate journalists — and be responsible for their reports afterward.

“I don’t think the uniformed military has really bought into the whole embed program,” Mr. Reid said.

“During the invasion it got a lot of ‘Whoopee, we’re kicking their butts’-type of TV coverage,” he said.

Now, he said the situation is nuanced and unpredictable. Generally, he said, the access reporters get “very much depends on the local commander.” More specifically, he said, “They’ve always been freaky about bodies.”

The facts of the Miller case are not in dispute, only their interpretation.

On the morning of June 26, Mr. Miller, 32, was embedded with Company E of the Second Battalion, Third Marine Regiment in Garma, in Anbar Province. The photographer declined a Marine request to attend a city council meeting, and instead accompanied a unit on foot patrol nearby.

When a suicide bomber detonated his vest inside the council meeting, killing 20 people, including 3 marines, Mr. Miller was one of the first to arrive. His photos show a scene of horror, with body parts littering the ground and heaps of eviscerated corpses. Mr. Miller was able to photograph for less than 10 minutes, he said, before being escorted from the scene.

Mr. Miller said he spent three days on a remote Marine base editing his photos, which he then showed to the Company E marines. When they said they could not identify the dead marines, he believed he was within embed rules, which forbid showing identifiable soldiers killed in action before their families have been notified. According to records Mr. Miller provided, he posted his photos on his Web site the night of June 30, three days after the families had been notified.

The next morning, high-ranking Marine public affairs officers demanded that Mr. Miller remove the photos. When he refused, his embed was terminated. Worry that marines might hurt him was high enough that guards were posted to protect him.

On July 3, Mr. Miller was given a letter signed by General Kelly barring him from Marine installations. The letter said that the journalist violated sections 14 (h) and (o) of the embed rules, which state that no information can be published without approval, including material about “any tactics, techniques and procedures witnessed during operations,” or that “provides information on the effectiveness of enemy techniques.”

“In disembedding Mr. Miller, the Marines are using a catch-all phrase which could be applied to just about anything a journalist does,” said Joel Campagna, Middle East program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

New embed rules were adopted in the spring of 2007 that required written permission from wounded soldiers before their image could be used, a near impossibility in the case of badly wounded soldiers, journalists say. While embed restrictions do permit photographs of dead soldiers to be published once family members have been notified, in practice, photographers say, the military has exacted retribution on the rare occasions that such images have appeared. In four out of five cases that The New York Times was able to document, the photographer was immediately kicked out of his or her embed following publication of such photos.

In the first of such incidents, Stefan Zaklin, formerly of the European Pressphoto Agency, was barred from working with an Army unit after he published a photo of a dead Army captain lying in a pool of blood in Falluja in 2004.

Two New York Times journalists were disembedded in January 2007 after the paper published a photo of a mortally wounded soldier. Though the soldier was shot through the head and died hours after the photo was taken, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno argued that The Times had broken embed rules by not getting written permission from the soldier.

Chris Hondros, of Getty Images, was with an army unit in Tal Afar on Jan. 18, 2005, when soldiers killed the parents of an unarmed Iraqi family. After his photos of their screaming blood-spattered daughter were published around the world, Mr. Hondros was kicked out of his embed (though Mr. Hondros points out that he soon found an embed with a unit in another city).

Increasingly, photographers say the military allows them to embed but keeps them away from combat. Franco Pagetti of the VII Photo Agency said he had been repeatedly thwarted by the military when he tried to get to the front lines.

In April 2008, Mr. Pagetti tried to cover heavy fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City. “The commander there refused to let me in,” Mr. Pagetti said. “He said it was unsafe. I know it’s unsafe, there’s a war going on. It was unsafe when I got to Iraq in 2003, but the military did not stop us from working. Now, they are stopping us from working.”

James Lee, a former marine who returned to Iraq as a photographer, was embedded with marines in the spring of 2008 as they headed into battle in the southern port city of Basra in support of Iraqi forces.

“We were within hours of Basra when they told me I had to go back. I was told that General Kelly did not want any Western eyes down there,” he said, referring to the same Marine general who barred Mr. Miller.

Military officials stressed that the embed regulations provided only a framework. “There is leeway for commanders to make judgment calls, which is part of what commanders do,” said Col. Steve Boylan, the public affairs officer for Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq. For many in the military, a legal or philosophical debate over press freedom misses the point. Capt. Esteban T. Vickers of the First Regimental Combat Team, who knew two of the marines killed at Garma, said photos of his dead comrades, displayed on the Internet for all to see, desecrated their memory and their sacrifice.

“Mr. Miller’s complete lack of respect to these marines, their friends, and families is shameful,” Captain Vickers said. “How do we explain to their children or families these disturbing pictures just days after it happened?”

Mr. Miller, who returned to the United States on July 9, expressed surprise that his images had ignited such an uproar.

“The fact that the images I took of the suicide bombing — which are just photographs of something that happens every day all across the country — the fact that these photos have been so incredibly shocking to people, says that whatever they are doing to limit this type of photo getting out, it is working,” he said.

Michael Kamber reported from Baghdad,

and Tim Arango from New York.

    4,000 U.S. Combat Deaths, and Just a Handful of Images, NYT, 26.7.2008,






Military Kin Struggle With Loss

and a Windfall


March 22, 2008
The New York Times


For some relatives of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the money feels, at first, like an affront, as if the government were putting a price tag on a loved one’s life. Others are thrown off balance by the sudden infusion of $500,000, spending with abandon to assuage grief or finding themselves besieged by hard-up friends and relatives. And the newfound wealth often strains relations among in-laws.

Three years ago, advocates for military families succeeded in winning a significant expansion in survivor benefits, which include life insurance, a death gratuity, medical care and housing and education assistance. But the increases have left some widows and next of kin clearly rattled by the collision of mourning and money.

“It’s like winning the lottery, and your relatives all look at you like you’re a cash cow,” said Kathleen B. Moakler, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization. “Money makes people do strange things.”

The parents of Sgt. Eli Parker of the Marines, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, used the $500,000 to finance their retirement, remodel their house near Syracuse and travel to Washington for the Marine Corps Marathon. After Sgt. Dominic J. Sacco of the Army was killed three years ago by an insurgent attack on his tank, his widow, Brandy, fielded requests for cash from family members she had not talked to for years — as well as from her husband’s ex-wife and a woman in prison who claimed that Sergeant Sacco had fathered her son.

Kayla Avery, whose husband was killed seven months after their West Point wedding, invested most of the payout, but not before buying new bedroom furniture, a Louis Vuitton wallet and a purple Coach bag to match her funeral clothes.

“I thought, ‘Well, this is my husband’s last Christmas gift to me,’ ” said Ms. Avery, 25, a graduate student in psychology who lives in Tennessee, near Fort Campbell, where her husband, First Lt. Garrison C. Avery, was an Army platoon leader.

It is impossible to know how many survivors of the service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have struggled with managing the benefits, and in interviews with dozens of military families, only a handful were willing to talk specifically about how they spent the money. Many families use the money to secure children’s futures, pay off mortgages, or otherwise make up for a long-term loss of income. But experts on military families say that they are seeing a growing number of problems, and that young widows — often naïve about finance and easily seduced by the glamorous accouterments of pop culture — seem to be especially vulnerable, trying to somehow fill emotional gaps with material things and ending up in debt instead.

“When you face sudden death, and the death of someone your own age, you think, ‘I could die, too,’ ” said Joanne M. Steen, co-author of “Military Widow: A Survival Guide” (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2006). “All of a sudden you get hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there’s a perception that it’s going to last forever, but it doesn’t. You’re dealing with some really tumultuous emotions and unclear thinking.”

In 2005, the so-called death gratuity — the sum given to survivors for an active-duty death — jumped to $100,000 from $12,420, and the military’s group life insurance maximum rose to $400,000 from $250,000. Both are retroactive to October 2001, covering the nearly 4,500 service members who have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since.

There are myriad other survivor benefits, too, many determined by specific circumstances. Joyce Wessel Raezer, chief operating officer of the National Military Family Association, said that a hypothetical widow of an Army corporal based at Fort Drum, in upstate New York, with three years of service and two young children would likely receive payments totaling $5,335 a month for the first year. In addition, a spouse would get free medical care for three years — the children into adulthood — and all would receive education assistance.

Through private companies, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides insurance beneficiaries the service of a professional financial planner for a year, but a spokesman said that only one in 10 families uses it.

Bill Saunders, director of client services for the Armed Forces Services Corporation, a private firm based in Arlington, Va., that offers military families advice on such issues, said that survivors are often overwhelmed by grief when they learn of the availability of financial advice, and that the military would do well to remind them after a few months.

“The money all shows up in their accounts within days or weeks, where there might have been $500 in there — ever,” Mr. Saunders said, referring to the lump sum of $500,000. “Many of these surviving spouses are young, which means they’ve never done any kind of money management or investing. So it’s completely foreign to them. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, would you like me to teach you Russian tomorrow? Come down to my office.’ And they don’t show.”

Ms. Avery, the widow who bought furniture and a purse — but not the BMW she coveted — credited her financial adviser with pushing long-term investment, but said she knows some widows who are now destitute.

“I do know that there have been widows who used all the money by paying cash for a house and paying cash for a car,” she said. “If they pay cash for a McMansion, they may not think about all the incidentals like heat and water and phone and cable and taxes and furniture.”

One widowed acquaintance, whom Ms. Avery declined to identify to protect her privacy, ended up applying to the Army for an emergency relief loan after blowing through the $500,000. “You have to have nothing — like the electricity has to be getting turned off” to qualify for such a loan, Ms. Avery said. “In grief, you’re in such a state of shock that you don’t take into account that you won’t have your husband’s salary in six months.”

Mr. Saunders said that a widow called his office in January wondering if there were any more monthly benefits she was entitled to (there were not). She had apparently spent the initial lump sum without buying a house or making investments.

“I said, ‘In that case, there’s not much more your government can do for you,’ ” recalled Mr. Saunders.

As they decide what to do with the money, survivors are often surrounded by people with their hands out.

“It wasn’t even two weeks after I had buried Nick, and I had people asking me for money,” recalled Mrs. Sacco, a 26-year-old nursing student who now lives in Topeka, Kan., with her two children. “There were quote-unquote friends whom I hadn’t seen in a long time who wanted to come and support me, but what they really wanted was money. It was pathetic.”

Though Sergeant Sacco’s ex-wife’s attempt to get benefits was unsuccessful, many survivors find themselves fighting over the military’s money with other family members, and rifts often develop between the late service member’s spouse and parents.

Rachelle Arroyave, 32, who lives in northern California, learned after the 2004 death of her husband, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Javier Arroyave of the Marines, that his mother was the life insurance beneficiary, even though the couple had two children and a baby on the way. Sergeant Arroyave’s mother got $400,000, while his wife received $100,000 from the death gratuity.

“I never thought to ask, and I take responsibility for not making sure,” said Mrs. Arroyave, whose children are now 10, 6 and 3. “But it was my husband. Why wouldn’t he take care of his wife and children? We had our whole lives planned out as to where we were going to retire and grow old together.”

Research databases did not turn up a current home telephone number for Sergeant Arroyave’s mother, and efforts to reach her through relatives were unsuccessful.Because of such situations, in 2005 the military began notifying spouses when service members choose someone other than a spouse or a child as their insurance beneficiaries or if the member declines the maximum coverage. This summer, as the law changes to allow service members to designate the entire death gratuity to whomever they wish, the military will require a similar spousal notification (now, half the $100,000 gratuity must go to the next of kin).

But the hurt and awkwardness can cut both ways. Debra vonRonn, whose son, Sgt. Kenneth G. vonRonn of the Army, died in a bomb explosion in Iraq in 2005, said she felt the military heaped a disproportionate amount of attention on her daughter-in-law, who received the official notification of death and was provided a car and driver for the funeral.

“They were married for one year, but I had him for 20 years,” Mrs. vonRonn said. “I understand that the spouse comes first, but they really need to pay a little more attention to the families. What about the parents? What about the sisters?”

Regardless of who gets the money or how it is spent, the initial reaction to the death gratuity can be viscerally negative. As Ms. Steen, a Navy widow herself, wrote in her survivor’s guide: “Some feel like they were paid off for their husband’s life.”

When Karie Darga’s husband of 12 years, Chief Petty Officer Paul J. Darga, was killed in 2006 on his fourth tour in the Middle East, she received the first $100,000 within the first few days.

“My casualty assistance officer handed me the check and I wanted to tear it up and throw it right back at him,” recalled Mrs. Darga, who lives in Norfolk, Va. “It was almost like accepting the money meant truly acknowledging that the death had happened.”

But Donna and Renny Parker, the upstate New York couple who remodeled their house, among other things, with the survivor benefits after their son was killed, said it has “been a positive thing.”

“I don’t think it’s blood money,” Ms. Parker said. “I just wish Eli was here to enjoy it.”

    Military Kin Struggle With Loss and a Windfall, NYT, 22.3.2008,






Still Trying to Bring

Their Fallen Heroes Home


February 3, 2008
The New York Times


The military telegram arrived in Peekskill, N.Y., on a springlike day in February 1945. The parents put it down unopened, falling to their knees to pray. Three of their five sons were pilots fighting overseas, and they were afraid to learn which of their boys was dead.

Their firstborn, Joseph Huba, 27, was the one named in the telegram. His transport plane had crashed in the Burmese jungle. And like tens of thousands of other American servicemen who died in World War II, he remained officially missing — a fate that has haunted such families ever since.

“My poor mother would say, ‘If they could just find him so I could bury him — I don’t want the birds picking on his body,’ ” recalled Francis Huba, 84, who remembers Joseph as “the best big brother anyone ever had.”

But it was a nephew — born 15 years after his uncle’s plane went down — who combed military records, interviewed witnesses and is now weighing a third-hand report that Burmese hunters have stumbled on the wreckage of the doomed plane.

More than six decades after the end of World War II, the families of men like Joe Huba are making a new push to find and bring home the remains of their missing and dead. After years when survivors accepted the solace of mass memorials and unknown-soldier graves, a younger generation is seeking something much more personal.

The relatives are spurred by strides in DNA matching, satellite mapping and Internet archives, and by a new advocacy group impatient with the pace of the military unit that tracks down remains.

“We owe these men for giving their lives — we can’t just leave them in jungles, on mountainsides,” said Lisa Phillips, 45, president of the group, World War II Families for the Return of the Missing, which was formed in 2006 to compete with organizations pressing for recoveries from the conflicts in Vietnam and Korea. “There’s that saying, ‘No one left behind,’ and we’ve left a generation behind.”

The search has its pitfalls, Ms. Phillips admits. Discoveries about how a loved one died can prove more disturbing than ignorance. International swindles and treasure hunters complicate the sheer challenge of identifying remains after so many years.

And some relatives have come up empty-handed after expensive private searches, like a Minnesota man who has spent thousands of dollars on underwater dives off Yap Island in the South Pacific without finding his uncle’s sunken B-24.

The numbers are daunting. Of more than 88,000 American servicemen missing in 20th-century conflicts, some 79,000 are casualties of World War II, and though many of them were forever lost at sea, the government classifies about 35,000 as recoverable. The unit responsible for all recoveries, the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, identifies about 75 remains a year. Yet the unit’s forensic successes keep raising expectations.

Last year a sailor killed at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and buried as an unknown in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, was exhumed, identified as Alfred E. Livingston, and reburied in Worthington, Ind., his hometown.

Similar identifications are now likely for some of the 47 “Okinawa Unknowns,” according to the Defense Department.

And in 2006, the recovery unit confirmed the identity of a World War I doughboy, Pvt. Francis Lupo, discovered in a construction site near Soissons, France, matching mitochondrial DNA from his bones with a niece’s saliva swab. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

“Things that weren’t possible for identification of remains 10 years ago are possible now,” said Gary Zaetz, 53, of Cary, N.C., who has been pressing the government for a recovery from a mountainside in northern India, where a World War II B-24 bomber nicknamed “Hot As Hell” was found a year ago by an Arizona mountaineer.

Mr. Zaetz’s uncle, First Lt. Irwin Zaetz, 26, known as Zipper, was the navigator on that plane when it disappeared in January 1944, with a crew of eight. Like Joseph Huba’s plane, it flew war supplies from India over the Himalayan peaks known as the Hump to Chinese forces resisting the Japanese. It became part of an aluminum trail of 500 wrecks — aircraft felled by icy storms and engine failure as much as by enemy fire. Few who bailed out were ever seen again.

After stumbling on a Web page that featured the “Hot As Hell” debris and listed its crew, Mr. Zaetz tracked down descendants through genealogical Web sites, enlisted many in his campaign, and drew coverage in hometown newspapers from Burlington, Vt. to Concord, Ga.

“One big concern of relatives of the World War II missing is that their families are really at the bottom of the totem pole,” he complained. “The focus has been overwhelmingly on recovery of M.I.A.’s from the Vietnam and Korean conflicts. We’re just looking for some parity of effort here.”

The government created a military recovery unit in the 1970s in response to an outcry after the Vietnam War, but its mission was expanded to all wars in 2000. “We’re doing our best to be as fair as possible, with frankly limited manpower, limited resources,” said a spokesman, Troy Kitch.

The government’s graves identification effort after World War II was enormous, he noted, citing 280,000 remains recovered worldwide between 1945 and 1954, more than 171,000 of them returned to the United States for burial.

The rest were buried in cemeteries around the world maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission — places like the Cemetery of the Pacific, where sweeping vistas draw millions of visitors, and memorial tablets record the names of “comrades in arms whose earthly resting place is known only to God.”

But such collective memorials do not satisfy searchers like Ms. Phillips, head of the World War II families’ group, who has consulted meteorologists and aviation experts about wind currents over Bangladesh, trying to pinpoint the site of a 1946 crash during early recovery efforts. The plane was carrying the remains of dozens of men, including those of her great-uncle, Second Lt. Joseph Rich of Portland, Me.

In those days, she said, survivors “didn’t question the government — they accepted what they were told.” But like Mr. Zaetz, when Ms. Phillips traced and recruited the kin of others missing in the crash, she found unresolved grief among the old and demands for better answers from the younger generation.

“It’s been all those years and you still have a hole in your heart,” said Ruth Garmong, 83, of Vandergrift, Pa., who cried as she spoke of her first husband, Bill Fetterman, “my high school sweetheart and the love of my life.” He was shot down Dec. 1, 1943, 10 days after his 21st birthday, and six months before the birth of their daughter, Andria.

Now 63, Andria Fetterman Clarey is searching for her mother’s sake, she said: “It breaks my heart that after all these years she hasn’t got anything back.”

Con men, some with Web sites, can capitalize on such emotions, Ms. Phillips cautioned. “There are people trying to sell you bones, telling you it’s your uncle,” she said, or charging for free military documents.

Another factor is the rise of amateur adventurers, epitomized by Clayton Kuhles, the Arizona mountaineer who located the “Hot As Hell” in India.

“It’s a hobby,” said Mr. Kuhles, 53, a history buff who posts information on his Web site, miarecoveries.org. “Some people go to Las Vegas or take a cruise. I like to go on mountaineering expeditions.”

Tips from native hunters are crucial to such expeditions, and with new immigration, leads also surface in the United States. It was through a Burmese refugee that a report recently reached Joseph Huba’s family about a wreck bearing his plane’s serial number. But there were implausible details, like eight dog tags supposedly found at the site that did not match any missing war casualties.

Joseph’s nephew, William Huba Jr., a supervisory agent with the F.B.I. in Syracuse, already had unearthed some disturbing answers about his uncle’s fate, summarized in the minutes of a 1947 military board that abandoned recovery efforts for the plane’s crew of four.

The plane lost an engine, then radio contact. Three parachutes were later spotted not far from the wreck, caught in a canopy of 100-foot trees. Three of the crew had certainly perished in the jungle, the board concluded, and if one went down with the plane, his body probably had been dragged away by wild animals.

“My parents never saw that documentation,” said William Huba Sr., 73, who was in grade school when the telegram arrived. “Maybe in a sense it was better that they didn’t.”

Haunted afresh by Joseph’s death, he and his brother Frank sometimes talk through the night, they said, dispelling fearful images with lived memories: Joe, the high school student, delivering milk for $1 a night to help their immigrant parents make ends meet in the Depression; Joe, the young artist, designing window displays for Sears; Joe, “the best big brother,” who took the younger ones to the city to hear big-name bands, and when he worked late, always brought home a candy bar for them to share.

“I pray for him,” Frank Huba said. “And just to have somebody looking is very meaningful.”

    Still Trying to Bring Their Fallen Heroes Home, NYT, 3.2.2008,






Leading article:

These poignant symbols

of the endless agonies of war


Published: 10 November 2007
The Independent


The symbolism of tomorrow's Remembrance Day ceremonies promise to be even more poignant than usual. The poppies of northern France became an emblem of the Great War thanks to John McCrae's composition of these lines commemorating the dead:

"In Flanders fields the poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row."

The Queen, the Prime Minister and various dignitaries from around the Commonwealth will lay wreaths representing the crimson flowers at the Cenotaph on Whitehall to honour the hundreds of thousands of Britons and imperial subjects who died in that conflict.

But look closer at those wreaths and one can see another, more contemporary, battle reflected in their scarlet hue. More poppies today grow in Afghanistan than anywhere else in the world. And this is the country in which 7,700 British soldiers are fighting – and dying – to support the administration of President Hamid Karzai. Eighty-three UK troops have been killed in the country since 2001. The latest died yesterday in a road accident. We also learnt yesterday that our military commitment has been extended in length.

Of course, in Afghanistan poppies have a very different significance than they do here in Britain. Poppies represent this ravaged country's only significant cash crop. The opium made from Afghanistan's poppy seeds feeds the world's heroin addiction. Yet one of the responsibilities of our soldiers in Afghanistan is to destroy the poppy crop.

This has little to do with helping Afghanistan. It is to cut the supply of heroin to the developed world. Afghans are understandably aggrieved at this. The insurgents of the Taliban have exploited this sense of injustice and used the tacit sympathy of the local population in the south to mount effective attacks on British troops. Across Britain tomorrow, our dead servicemen and women will be commemorated with poppies. In Afghanistan they will be dying because of the flowers.

So when the two-minute silence begins at the 11th minute of the 11th hour tomorrow, we must remember not just those who died serving their country in past conflicts, but also contemplate those who are risking their lives today in Afghanistan. We must also reflect on the plight of the 5,000 servicemen and women still stationed in the south of Iraq.

In some respects, the experience of the soldiers of the Western Front would be unrecognisable to today's servicemen and women in Middle Eastern and south Asian conflict zones. There are no mass charges into no man's land, no poison gas attacks. Men are no longer shot for cowardice. And, mercifully, the casualty rates in Basra have been far lower than witnessed on battlefields such as the Somme. But not everything has changed. There has been trench warfare in Afghanistan. And, of course, both sets of soldiers would be able to swap stories about the deficiencies of their political leaders.

Yet that human link with the past grows ever more frail with each passing year. There are just five known British veterans of the Great War still alive. Our living connection with the terrible carnage and human waste of the First World War has almost been broken. But we have ample means to remember. Technology has enabled us to record the testimonies of those who served. The internet allows families to research relatives who served. Veterans will die, but their stories and histories will live on. And, of course, we have the destruction and slaughters of the present to remind us of the endless agonies of war. If we forget, it will be because we have chosen to, not because our memories will have failed us. There can be no excuses

Leading article:
These poignant symbols of the endless agonies of war, I, 10.11.2007,
http://comment.independent.co.uk/leading_articles/article3146419.ece - broken link






Suspected US Soldier Remains



July 26, 2007
Filed at 5:51 a.m. ET
The New York Times


HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- The suspected remains of three American soldiers killed during the Vietnam War have been sent back to the United States, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Three cases holding the likely remains of three American soldiers left Da Nang in central Vietnam in a military aircraft headed for the United States on Wednesday, said Ron Ward, an official of the U.S. MIA, or Missing in Action, office in Vietnam.

They are to be identified at a military laboratory in Hawaii, Ward said.

The remains were recovered from three different sites -- one in the north and two in central Vietnam -- over the past three months, he said.

Nearly 1,800 U.S. servicemen deployed to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War remain unaccounted for since the conflict ended in 1975, including more than 1,360 in Vietnam. An estimated 58,000 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the war.

    Suspected US Soldier Remains Repatriated, NYT, 26.7.2007,






U.S. Looks for Fallen Troops at Iwo Jima


July 3, 2007
Filed at 12:19 p.m. ET
The New York Times


IWO JIMA, Japan (AP) -- Maj. Sean Stinchon stands at the base of Hill 362A and scans a map drawn up by Navy Seabees in 1948 that is deeply creased and covered in reddish brown dirt. The map shows a labyrinth of caves and tunnels that runs through the brush-covered hill like the cross-section of an ant colony.

Save for the buzzing of mosquitoes, all is quiet. Stinchon can see all the way to the pristine black-sand beach and the Pacific. It's a breathtaking scene. But Stinchon, of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base on Hawaii, is focused on finding a Marine named Sgt. William H. Genaust, killed 62 years ago.

Over the past two years, Stinchon has traveled through Europe and Asia looking for the remains of America's fallen troops. More than 78,000 are still missing from World War II alone. An additional 8,100 are MIA from the Korean conflict, and 1,750 from Vietnam.

In 1945, Hill 362A was a kill zone. The 21,200 Japanese defenders, deeply dug in with weapons and supplies, faced a desperate situation: 100,000 Americans who were storming Japanese soil for the first time. They watched a huge flotilla of U.S. Navy ships surround their island. Then came the bombings and heavy artillery fire.

Then the Marines.

Within days, an American flag was flying atop the highest point on the tiny, pork-chop shaped island -- Mount Suribachi, a sulfur-belching volcano on Iwo Jima's southern tip. But it took 31 days before the U.S., on March 26, 1945, declared the island secure. Some 6,821 Americans were killed; only 1,033 Japanese survived. For the U.S., it was the fiercest battle of the war -- none had generated a higher percentage of casualties.

It was a turning point.

On Feb. 23, 1945, AP photographer Joe Rosenthal hiked up to the top of Suribachi and shot the flag-raising -- the second one that day. His photo, which won him the Pulitzer Prize, helped rally the weary nation behind the final push to defeat Japan, and continues to serve as the single most important icon of the valor of the Marine Corps.

Genaust, a Marine combat photographer, was also there. After escorting the unarmed Rosenthal up the volcano, he stood next to Rosenthal and filmed the moment with a movie camera.

But he didn't live to see the impact of his own footage.

Nine days later, Genaust was on Hill 362A helping his unit secure a cave. They needed a flashlight to see inside, and Genaust volunteered to use his. But as he entered the cave, he was riddled with machine-gun fire and died on the spot. The entrance to the cave was sealed -- possibly by a bulldozer.

Genaust's body, with those of 280 U.S. ground troops who fought on Iwo Jima, was never found.

Stinchon was on Hill 362A to change that.

In a 10-day expedition, Stinchon and his seven-member team -- the first U.S.-led search on Iwo Jima in nearly 60 years -- were looking for what wasn't on his map: caves and tunnels that were closed and sealed, then missed when U.S. searchers combed the island for American dead.

''We need to find places that haven't already been searched,'' he said.

Iwo Jima, inhabited today by about 400 Japanese soldiers, is craggy, volcanic terrain. Its interior is thick with thorny foliage. Shrapnel still litters the ground, and unexploded shells remain a major hazard.

''You couldn't move out there without the use of a machete,'' Stinchon said. ''It was very thick, a lot of tall cactus plants.''

Stinchon and his team hacked their way up the side of the hill and found two potential locations.

Both could easily have been missed.

One appeared to be a small crack, just big enough for a dog to get into, behind rocky debris. The team had to dig through several feet of dirt to reveal the entrance to the other.

To the experts, there was one big giveaway -- heat.

''You can kind of tell when you are coming up to a cave or a cave entrance because you can feel the heat coming out and you can smell the sulfur fumes,'' Stinchon said.

He said the team couldn't get into either to do an extensive investigation for fear of a cave-in, but he said members will take the information they found back to headquarters and recommend that a follow-up team be sent in with heavy equipment to excavate.

''We'll continue to search,'' he said. ''At this time, we have a good start.''

Back in Hawaii, JPAC officials say they will analyze the results of the investigation and decide whether a further search, and possibly a full recovery team, is warranted.

Following the motto ''Until They are Home,'' JPAC, which was created in 2003, identifies about six MIAs each month -- some 1,300 so far. The command, which also runs permanent branches in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, has at any given time about 1,000 active cases.

''It's such an incredible mission,'' said Lt. Col. Mark Brown, the JPAC spokesman. ''There's a lot of families who have been waiting a long time.''

Stinchon's team was fairly typical.

Once a promising area is pinpointed, a preliminary investigation is conducted by a team that generally includes linguists, medics, forensic anthropologists and ordnance specialists.

Though it boasts the world's largest forensic anthropology laboratory, JPAC's staff of about 425 people is stretched to the limit and often relies on outside tips -- from family members, friends or amateur historians.

''No lead is too small,'' Brown said. ''We do not turn down a lead.''

In Genaust's case, information provided by businessman Bob Bolus of Scranton, Pa., was key to getting the team to Iwo Jima. Bolus saw an article in Parade magazine two years ago about Genaust, and spent thousands of dollars of his own money to track down leads and even visit the island with his own team of private experts.

Brown said JPAC is particularly interested in obtaining ''family reference samples,'' mitochondrial DNA from the relatives of MIAs. Typically the samples are obtained by swabbing the inside of the cheek, and can be vital in cracking an otherwise impossible identification.

''There are lots of leads we need, people we need to find,'' he said. ''If there aren't dog tags or artifacts, if it's impossible to do dental identification, our last resort is family reference samples.''

The forensics experts have DNA from a niece of Genaust.

Japan's government and military helped with the search on Iwo Jima, which last month was officially renamed Iwo To -- the island's name before the war.

Japan sent its first search parties to the island in 1952 and others have followed every year since Iwo Jima was returned to Japanese control in 1968. They have recovered 8,595 sets of remains -- but, to date, no Americans.

JPAC remains determined.

''We want them all,'' said Hugh Tuller, a civilian anthropologist with the Iwo Jima search team. ''We want to find them all.''


On the Net:



    U.S. Looks for Fallen Troops at Iwo Jima, NYT, 3.7.2007,






U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq at 3, 309


April 18, 2007
Filed at 2:03 a.m. ET
The New York Times


As of Tuesday, April 17, 2007, at least 3,309 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,689 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The AP count is two higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.

The British military has reported 142 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 19; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, six; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia, three; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Romania, one death each.


The latest deaths reported by the military:

-- No deaths reported.


The latest identifications reported by the military:

-- Army Spc. Ryan A. Bishop, 32, Euless, Texas; died Saturday in Baghdad of wounds sustained from an explosive; assigned to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.

-- Marine 1st Lt. Shaun M. Blue, 25, Munster, Ind.; died Monday of wounds sustained in Anbar province; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

-- Marine Lance Cpl. Jesse D. Delatorre, 29, Aurora, Ill.; died Monday of wounds sustained in Anbar province; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

-- Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel R. Scherry, 20, Rocky River, Ohio; died Monday after a non-hostile accident in Anbar province; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

-- Army Pfc. Lucas V. Starcevich, 25, St. Charles, Ill.; died Monday in Baghdad when an explosive struck his vehicle; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany.

-- Army Sgt. Joshua A. Schmit, 26, Willmar, Minn.; killed Saturday when an explosive struck his vehicle in Fallujah; assigned to the 1451st Transportation Company, 13th Support Command, Iraq.

-- Army Sgt. Brandon L. Wallace, 27, St. Louis, Mo.; killed Saturday when an explosive struck his vehicle in Fallujah; assigned to the 1451st Transportation Company, 13th Support Command, Iraq.

-- Army Pfc. Aaron M. Genevie, 22, Chambersburg, Pa.; killed Monday in Baghdad when his vehicle struck an explosive; assigned to the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

-- Army Pfc. Steven J. Walberg, 18, Paradise, Calif.; killed Sunday in Baghdad by small-arms fire; assigned to the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

-- Army Sgt. Mario K. De Leon, 26, San Francisco; killed Monday in Baghdad by small-arms fire; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany.


On the Net:


(SUBS 13th graf 'Army Pfc...'

to correct soldier's hometown, St. Charles sted Canton, Ill.)

    U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq at 3, 309, NYT, 19.4.2007,






Army mistakenly

asks deceased to re-enlist


Fri Jan 5, 2007
10:39 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Army said on Friday that it will apologize to the families of deceased and wounded officers that it mistakenly encouraged to re-enlist via letters sent out in late December.

About 75 families of deceased officers and 200 families of wounded officers received such letters sent to more than 5,100 officers between December 26 and 28, the Army said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, the database used to address those letters contained names of officers who were killed in action or wounded," the Army said. "Army personnel officials are contacting those officers' families now to personally apologize for erroneously sending the letters."

The names of these soldiers had been removed from the database, but an earlier version of the list was mistakenly used, the Army said.

The Army said it is taking steps to ensure this mistake does not happen again.

On Thursday, a U.S. soldier was killed in western Baghdad, bringing the total to 3,006 the number of U.S. soldiers killed so far since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

The United States has 132,000 troops in Iraq and President George W. Bush plans to unveil a new Iraq strategy as early as next Wednesday that could include a short-term increase of up to 20,000 U.S. troops in the country.

    Army mistakenly asks deceased to re-enlist, R, 5.1.2007,






When Soldiers Fall,

Grief Binds a Unit’s 2 Worlds


November 10, 2006
The New York Times


BAGHDAD, Nov. 9 — Memorial services honoring fallen soldiers from the First Battalion, 22nd Infantry in Iraq used to require planning meetings of as long as 45 minutes. But at this point, they take barely five.

“We’re here again,” said Chaplain John Hill. A roadside bomb had killed yet another soldier from the battalion the day before. He began to recite the unit’s “memorial ceremony execution matrix,” a 40-item checklist of tasks that includes everything from collecting personal effects to finding a singer.

Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, the battalion’s commander, said, “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten, I won’t say, good at this,” and he wrapped up the meeting almost as soon as it began. “It’s become habitual.”

In October, 105 American troops were killed in Iraq, the most since January 2005. The spike in deaths, more than three years after the war began, became a major factor in the sweeping Democratic gains in Congress this week. Colonel Osborne’s soldiers alone lost nine comrades, just as the battalion was beginning to make preparations to return home later this month.

“When something like this happens, all you do is think about it,” said Sgt. First Class Robert Warman, who last month watched a Humvee carrying four soldiers get blown to bits in front of him when a huge bomb hidden in the road exploded. “You think about it when you go to the mess hall, when you go to take a shower, when you lay down to sleep. You think, and you think, and you think, and you cry.”

The 800-strong Army battalion, part of the First Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division based in Fort Hood, Tex., has been patrolling a vast swath of land west of Baghdad riven by Sunni Arab insurgents.

The losses in the unit in October were the most suffered by any battalion or squadron, according to a New York Times database of war casualties compiled from information provided by the Pentagon.

Back home, among the soldiers’ wives, fear spread in ever-widening circles. News sped from a woman’s living room in Killeen, outside Fort Hood, to her friend across town and then across the country.

After hearing that a member of her husband’s unit had been killed, Debbie Borawski braced herself. She was so certain that an Army officer was going to arrive at her home that she called a friend to come and wait with her. “I pretty much almost blacked out, “ she said.

Hour by hour from her home in Fort Hood, she filters the news of every roadside bomb, every sniper attack. “Until you hear that he’s safe, it almost kills you,” she said. “It eats you away.”

In the battalion’s first tour in Iraq, when it aided in the eventual capture of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit, it lost a handful of soldiers. And until September, only 3 soldiers of the 800 in the battalion had been killed in combat during this tour. On Oct. 1, a platoon of soldiers from A Company set out to establish an observation post near a road that had been plagued by concealed bombs.

Specialist Heriberto Hernandez, 20, was among a group of soldiers in a Humvee that rolled up toward a bridge near where they would set up. Specialist Hernandez and another soldier got out, while Cpl. Chase A. Haag, 22, a carefree soldier from Portland, Ore., who was in the gunner’s hatch, continued down the road with two others. The explosion that followed detonated right below Corporal Haag. Specialist Hernandez said he could tell right away that his friend, one of the best gunners in the battalion, was gone.

Still, he gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until the medevac helicopter arrived. Specialist Zachary Mayhew, who was one of Corporal Haag’s closest confidants in the platoon, put a splint on his mangled leg.

“We got him out of there in 25 minutes,” Specialist Hernandez said. They learned later that their friend had died. That shook the younger soldiers in the platoon, who had protected themselves with an inflated sense of invincibility.

The young soldier’s death forced couples like Sgt. Joseph Wilson and his wife, Sara, to strip away denial from their conversations.

“He doesn’t really like to talk about it,” said Mrs. Wilson, 26, living in Arizona until her husband’s return. “I’ve kind of forced him to talk about things, especially Haag’s death. He gets upset and starts crying.”

A few days later, Sgt. Brandon S. Asbury, 21, part of the battalion’s forward support company, was shot and killed by a sniper. Less than two weeks afterward, a roadside bomb killed Second Lt. Johnny K. Craver, 37, from the battalion’s B Company. On Oct. 18, four soldiers — Cpl. Russell G. Culbertson III, 22; Specialist Joseph C. Dumas Jr., 25; Second Lt. Christopher E. Loudon, 23; and Cpl. David M. Unger, 21 — along with their Iraqi interpreter, were killed by a bomb blast that left a crater in the road 7 feet deep and 15 feet wide.

Sgt. Scott Borawski, 36, of C Company, was supposed to have been on that Humvee that day. But because he was busy with other duties, he was replaced by Corporal Unger of Headquarters Company, whom Sergeant Borawski and his wife had befriended back home at Fort Hood.

Debbie Borawski first thought her husband was among the dead, after a call from Corporal Unger’s grieving wife.

“I knew Scott was with them,” Mrs. Borawski, 40, said later. “I didn’t know he wasn’t with his crew.”

She struggled to focus on the new widow, now forced to raise her young son alone, on the other end of the line. “I was so much more worried about my husband,” she said. “I feel selfish saying this. But I ended up kind of shutting down.”

After the blast, it took Sergeant Borawski two days to gather himself enough to call his wife to tell her what had happened. He had hoped to avoid breaking down for his wife’s sake, but halfway through he did.

“I didn’t know if I should feel grateful for not being there, or remorseful,” he said.

The bomb attack, coming so soon after Corporal Haag’s death, shook Specialist Mayhew anew. Lieutenant Loudon was a high school friend of his. The pair came from the same tiny town of just 2,100 people in Pennsylvania. They played on the same soccer team. Their mothers were friends. Somehow they had wound up in the same battalion in Iraq.

Back in Pennsylvania, Specialist Mayhew’s mother, Beverly Fustine, attended the young lieutenant’s funeral.

She said she was “pretty much O.K.” before October but now needed medication to sleep at night.

“I’m scared to death,” she said. “Sometimes I even fear answering the door. But it can’t compare to the fear he must feel every day.”

On Oct. 22, as Colonel Osborne and his men were questioning a store owner about reports of a Sunni checkpoint stopping Shiites, a shot rang out. Specialist Nathaniel A. Aguirre, 21, a medic who had been making plans to enroll at Texas A&M University and sign up for ROTC after Iraq, lay motionless on the street. He was standing less than 20 feet from the battalion commander.

Sgt. Kenneth England and Colonel Osborne dragged his body behind a parked car and tried to revive him. Sergeant England shoved a tube into his nose to try to create an airway but after five minutes of work, he pronounced Specialist Aguirre dead.

Less than a half hour later, as they were still looking for the sniper, they heard the crack of another rifle shot. Word came over the radio that the gunner in one of the Humvees down the street, Specialist Matthew W. Creed, 23, had been hit.

Sergeant England again dashed out to try to save Specialist Creed, one of many soldiers in the battalion who was supposed to have left the Army but is in Iraq because of the Department of Defense’s stop-loss order. He could not save him either.

That night, Sergeant England called his wife, Vanessa, a pharmacy student in Oklahoma, as he always does.

“Hey baby,” he said and listened to her tell him about her day.

When it was his turn, he could only say that it had been bad. It was not until several days later that he shared a few details.

“I told her we lost two guys, and I was there,” he said. “She really doesn’t need to know there was a sniper 50 meters away from me.”

Several wives said they took for granted the misinformation coming from their own husbands, well-intentioned little lies to ease fears. The women gather bits of news from one another, within the longstanding Family Readiness Groups or through the less formal channels of MySpace accounts and cellphones.

Specialist Hernandez made his fiancée, Kathleen Soliz, promise not to watch the news. In October, she broke the promise.

“I try not to, but it’s just that forbidden fruit,” said Ms. Soliz, 20, of Austin. “I can’t help it. I want to see if things are getting progressively worse or better, what regions are in a bind, and how the forces are dealing with that. I don’t even know what area exactly he’s in, so I’m probably doing myself an injustice more than anything.”

For the soldiers struggling to cope back in Iraq, it is the quiet moments in between missions and hanging out with buddies that are the most difficult. On Nov. 1, they lost yet another soldier to yet another makeshift bomb.

Pfc. Shane Barrows, who was there when the four soldiers in the Humvee were killed last month, strums his guitar and sings to himself in his room. He and others spent hours afterward cleaning up the area, collecting remnants of their friends’ bodies and placing them gently in body bags.

On a recent morning, he closed his eyes and sang: “When you are reading the paper, will you remember them? Will you see their faces like I did? I will see them forever in my head.”


Michael Luo reported from Baghdad and Camp Liberty in Iraq,

and Michael Wilson from Killeen,

Tex. Andy Lehren contributed reporting from New York.

    When Soldiers Fall, Grief Binds a Unit’s 2 Worlds, NYT, 10.11.2006,






Army reviews soldiers' deaths


Posted 10/29/2006
10:59 PM ET
USA Today
By Gregg Zoroya


A review of battlefield deaths that included the case of former pro football player Pat Tillman has concluded that the Army gave wrong or misleading information to the families of seven dead soldiers, according to the Army's casualty notification office.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey ordered the review after the media cited mistakes in several war deaths. Tillman, once a safety for the Arizona Cardinals, was an Army Ranger when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. His family was told he died from enemy fire, when actually fellow Rangers shot him by accident.

Col. Patrick Gawkins, head of the Army's notification office, provided findings of the review to USA TODAY. He said the review looked at about 810 deaths and found that the families of Tillman and six others were misinformed about how their relatives died.

The number of deaths reviewed amounted to roughly 40% of nearly 2,200 Army soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The findings mark the first time that the Army has released a total number of cases where next of kin were given incorrect information on causes of death.

Gawkins blamed the mistakes on the "fog of war" or possibly inappropriate efforts by individual soldiers to protect families from negative information. To guard against future mistakes, the Army is investigating every war death and alerting families if there may be "suspicious" circumstances, Gawkins said. "One mistake is way too many."

Among the soldiers whose deaths were misreported are Tillman; Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey and 1st Lt. Andre Tyson, both killed by Iraqi civil-defense soldiers in the same 2004 incident; and 1st Lt. Ken Ballard, accidentally shot to death in 2003.

Also on the list is Spc. Jesse Buryj, 21, who died in a "friendly fire" incident in Iraq in 2004. His mother, Peggy Buryj of Canton, Ohio, said she thinks the Army is only reacting to public pressure.

"I don't think the Army would have done anything if people hadn't made a stink, I really don't," said Peggy Buryj, who was told that her son died in a vehicle accident. "I hope they're sincere. ... I don't know."

In five of the seven deaths, the same mistake occurred: Families were not told that friendly forces were to blame. Those cases were Tillman, McCaffrey, Tyson, Buryj and the death of a soldier who Gawkins declined to identify. Ballard's mother was originally told her son was killed by enemy fire.

In a seventh case, a soldier in Afghanistan died from a heart attack and his family was not told that the death occurred during inhalation of a substance from an aerosol can, Gawkins said.

The re-examination of deaths is part of several steps taken by the Army to improve the way it notifies families. Other steps include:

•Requiring more chaplains in the process.

•Producing an $800,000 training film that highlights how grieving families react.

•Dispatching training teams to educate soldiers.

•Creating a new coffin cover with a flag emblem that will make it easier for air freight personnel to treat remains in a dignified fashion.

"They are trying," said Joyce Raezer of the National Military Family Association, a support organization. "We hear fewer horror stories about casualty notification than we used to. So folks are learning."

Army reviews soldiers' deaths,
UT, 29.10.2006,










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