Written by Michael Fones
Wednesday, 30 May 2007 20:51
In the last few weeks I've met two young men who are going to go to Iraq. Sean has just graduated from high school, where he was on the wrestling team. He's fiercely proud of his high school. His pastor commented to me last year on how much he had matured in the last few years, and that his participateion in the youth group had really helped him in that process.
Tonight I offered a home Mass for a couple whose eldest of two sons, Patrick, leaves for California tomorrow to prepare to go with his Marine battalion to Iraq in August. He's part of a rapid response team that will be working in a city that is known as a gathering point for insurgents, and from which they are sent to other parts of Iraq. He was telling some of his friends at the dinner after Mass that he had been told that the previous tour of his battalion had been exceptionally quiet, but that this tour would be just the opposite.
He was not grandstanding, or bragging. When asked if he felt prepared, he said, "Yes, of course."
Patrick will be nineteen a few days before he leaves for Iraq. Sean's eighteen. Patrick might weigh 140 lbs. I don't think he shaves. Sean can manage a bit of fuzz around his chin, but that's about it.
I don't know how anyone can be prepared to be in an environment where anyone not in uniform could be a potential assassin; where the body of a dead comrade could be booby-trapped to maim or kill a soldier who comes to retrieve it. How can eighteen and nineteen year-olds expect to be prepared to see their friends bloodied by shrapnel? How will they respond if one morning they find the body of a child they'd befriended?
I know the military does its best to prepare these adolescents - many of whom no doubt have seen their share of carnage on TV, movie and computer screens - but Iraq is not a videogame.
I mourn for Sean and Patrick, and the thousands of youths like them who are in Iraq or headed there. They will be forever changed by their experience, like their brothers and sisters who have gone to war before them. Some come back stronger, more resilient, more confident, more aware of the complexities of the world and politics. They sometimes become wonderful leaders.
Others come back broken in body or spirit, innocence lost and replaced with cynicism or fear or worse. They don't make us comfortable, and too often we subtly shun them, or lose them in some bureaucracy. They take some of the imagined glory out of war. Some of them end up in our soup kitchens and we judge them without knowing their story or their sacrifice.
God bless and protect you, Sean and Patrick. God bless all of our troops in Iraq. May you come home safely, and soon. May peace come to the Iraqi people soon, too.
Over 3500 American soldiers have been killed, and another 25,000+ wounded. Sixty-four to seventy-thousand Iraqi civilians have also died.
Let us pray for them all, and for an end to this conflict.