Wednesday, January 26, 2005

1,400 and counting ...

The press reports that 36 US military personnel have died in Iraq today, the deadliest day of the war so far. Five were killed by the resistance, 31 apparently by the weather. 35 of the 36 were Marines.

Now you know me, and you know that I oppose the war. So you may find it surprising that I don't regard this as a severe military blow. Assuming that the helicopter crashed and was not shot down, it's something that can happen -- that has happened, many times, in peace as well as war.

The CH-53 is an older helicopter. When I left the Marine Corps in 1995, they'd been desperate to get rid of it for awhile. Unfortunately, its prospective replacement, the V-22 Osprey, has been a real white elephant, and Congress hasn't been inclined to plough a bunch of money into any other prospective replacement. I've been in one CH-53 crash. Fortunately, the aircraft was less than 100 feet in the air when it decided not to work anymore and nobody was hurt. Another time, one crapped out way up high, but the pilot was able to recover. Others weren't so lucky. A lot of Marines have died in peacetime helicopter crashes.

For that matter, the most dangerous job in the military, wartime or peacetime, is working on an aircraft carrier's flight deck.

Military duty is dangerous. That's its nature. And someone who dies in a helicopter crash at 29 Palms or a flight deck accident off Norfolk, or rolling over a Humvee at Camp Pendleton, is just as dead, and will be just as missed, as someone killed in action.

You may remember this from "Saving Private Ryan" (the letter read by Chief of Staff George Marshall was real, written by Abraham Lincoln). Remember also that it applies fully as much to those who have lost a son or daughter in an accident of war as in a battle:

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Support the war or not, remember that the Marines and soldiers who died today served a country they believed to be worthy of their devotion, and fell in a cause they believed to be just. Remember that if they had their doubts, they nonetheless chose to trust in that nation and in that cause, even unto death. Remember that those of us who constitute that nation owe it to those men and women to live up to their devotion and trust -- remember it whether or not you believe that we as a nation are doing so now. Remember that they are people who are loved, and who will be missed.

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