17 months ago, a bright, caring, wonderful young man, while doing his job, accompanied by two other marines, walked by a Mosque in Hit, Iraq. They were showing their presence on the street, to deter insurgent activity and reassure the Iraqi residents. Passing the mosque they encountered an ied device, which exploded, piercing their young bodies with shrapnel and engulfing them in fiery smoke. One young man was killed outright, the other two sustaining massive wounds.
One was a naval corpsman. He was there to provide medical assistance. Not realizing he himself had been seriously injured, he called to his comrades, "Who's hurt? Who needs me?" before falling. He had been hit with shrapnel in his neck, legs, and arms. As his commanding officer tried to administer emergency aide to him, he instructed his commander what procedures to take. He was airlifted to a hospital in Baghdad, where his wounds were treated. He lost a hand, and a foot, but he was alive. His next of kin were notified of his injuries, but were told he would be transferred to Germany as soon as he was stable.
However, after a few days, he had trouble breathing. He was placed on a respirator, and it was determined that his lungs had been burned beyond repair by the heat of the explosion. Before removing the respirator, he was placed in a coma, so when the respirator was removed he would die without pain. Then they made another call to his next of kin, telling them he had died.
An autopsy was performed, confirming their diagnosis. His body was was preserved, waiting for a transport to Dover Airport, where it was taken to a mortuary in Arlington, VA. His body arrived 10 days after his death. During the viewing, he was surrounded by fellow corpsman he had served with in Great Lakes, IL. They stood in a circle around his coffin, and shed their tears quietly. They watched as family members grieved and cried, their faces bewildered with shock and disbelief. They watched as his wife called his name over and over again. They watched as his mother, trying her best to cover him up, as he was so very cold, looked at her son, and wanted nothing more than to pick him up and carry him home with her. They watched his father, escorted by oldest son, cry uncontrollably at the site of his youngest son laying so cold and white in the casket.
The next day, the funeral was conducted with full military honors. They half-listened to the words being spoken, each trying to grasp the fact that what was happening was real. They listened to the bugler playing taps, the 21-gun saluted, and watched the folding of the flag, and the presentation of the flag from the coffin to his widow, and the presentation of medals to his 5 year old son. Two other flags were presented to his father and mother, and his mother grasped it closely to her chest, as it instantly became sacred. They rose, and one by one, they said goodbye to the young man they loved so very dearly. As they got up to leave, they were amazed at the many people who stood behind them, hundreds of people who had journeyed to this cemetery to witness the laying to rest of a fine and beloved friend and comrade.
The mother did not want to leave. She thought it best she should stay awhile, as her son should not be alone. She wanted to lay beside him, as she did as a child, and comfort him, hold him close, and protect him, cheer him, show him how very much he was loved. But, she was ushered away, taken home, far away from his resting place. But, still each day, she grieves for him, not wanting to accept that he is really gone, still thinking in the deepest core of her being that somehow it was a dream or a mistake. But each day that passes she realizes that he won't be coming home.
And, now, obsessively she reads the newspapers, watching for news of another young man or woman who has lost their lives in a far off land, full of sand, and heat, and death. She mourns for them as well, hoping that her son is there to greet them as they pass from this life to the next. That is what keeps her going. Knowing that somehow, somewhere she will see her son again, his smiling face, serene and calm.
She dreams about him, when he was a baby, a child, and the young man he grew to be. When she wakes up she feels the weight of his loss settle around her for another day. And she knows she is not alone in her grief, that many, many people suffer from the loss of this one young man.
She sees people going about their lives, unaware of her loss, everyone's loss, and wants to scream at them to not forget. Remember them all she silently pleads. No matter where she is, the grief hits her, and she cries, fresh tears for her lost son. She realizes the grief is the same for any parent who has lost a child, no matter the circumstances, but she also knows that more will die needlessly as her son did. She knows it must stop.
She remembers his last words. Take care of my guys. Don't forget them. Tell them I'll be back, don't let them get another corpsman. And she never wants to see another family face this kind of loss again. She wants all of the men and women to come home. She just wants them all to come home, alive, and be with their families again.
She wants them to come home.