How Many Troops Does The Death of One Affect?
by James Glaser
June 24, 2008
Every so often I start thinking about a Marine Corporal whose name I never got, who died on the perimeter of the Dong Ha Combat Base, back in 1969. Actually, I can picture his wife and daughter a lot more clearly than I can him. About a week before he died, we had both jumped into the same bunker during a rocket attack, and it was dark in there, but the two of us got to talking. With the light from a cigarette lighter, he showed me a picture of his wife and daughter who he had just seen on a R&R leave to Hawaii.
His wife was far more beautiful than I would have expected for this guy who looked like a skinny runt, and his daughter was, I would guess, about one year old and had such a bright smile that her picture made me smile while listening to the rocket impacts hitting around us.
I might have known his name that night, but it was probably only a nickname as we all had them. Then like I said, a week later he was killed on the perimeter. I didn't see him die, but I did help carry him back to the rear. Maybe that's why I can't picture him in my mind, as when we carried him down he was such a mess there wasn't all that much left of him.
I guess what got me thinking about him this time was reading about all the guys coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan who are having mental health problems with their time in combat. One guy dieing can bother a lot of the troops who served with him.
You don't even have to know the Marine killed to have it bother you. For sure it is going to bother the guys the dead Marine was with in combat when he or she was hit. Then there is the Corpsman who was called to give first aid, and there are the guys who have to carry the dead or dying Marine out of the combat zone. If he didn't die right away, there are a whole bunch of medical people who have to work on him, and when he dies, there are the Graves Registration people who have to clean and wash the body and get it ready to ship home.
Even after all of that, there are the troops who have to carry all those flag draped coffins to and from the plane, and after a while all those coffins have to get to you. And still, there are more. There is the Honor Guard at the funeral and then all of that Marine's loved ones.
I know the daughter of the Marine in the bunker with me never knew her dad, but I bet she wonders about him more than I do, and for sure his wife still thinks about him... even after all these years.
Every Soldier or Marine killed in a war is remembered by dozens of his or her comrades. They are also remembered by everyone who comes in contact with their dead body on the way to their final resting place, and it bothers them all to some extent for the rest of their lives.
Sometimes, I still shed a tear for that young Corporal whose name I still search for, and sometimes I still have to smile when I think of that picture of his daughter. I know there are other Marines who remember him also. Every death in every war is held in the memory of a lot of people, and it affects them for a long, long time.
BACK to the 2008 Politics Columns.