Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Six Soldiers Mourned

I saw an item on the news a few nights ago about the public ceremony in Lafayette, Louisiana to bring home the caskets of six National Guardsmen, all from the same parish, who were killed in an explosion in Iraq. The public ceremony violated Pentagon policy that there were to be no photographs of the flag draped coffins of war dead. An editorial in the Fort Worth, Arkansas Times Record explained how the Louisiana National Guard had gone against Pentagon policy at the request of the families:

“They grew up together, went to school together, went to war together. They died together. It was important for the family to see them come home together.”

That’s what Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, a public affairs officer, told the Lafayette, La., Daily Advertiser, and his words are telling. He speaks of “the family” as singular, not plural, because this is one family, a community united in its sorrow.

Nor was this an accident. Responding to questions about the guard’s decision to let media observe and photograph the returning caskets, Schneider told CBS news, “What we thought was, we’re going to do what the family asked us to do.”

The decision was made, news reports say, despite a Pentagon request that the guard adhere to the military’s policy of not allowing coverage or photographs of returning casualties of war.

It’s a good thing to be part of a family; family members pull together in a crisis and defend each other. In this case, the Louisiana family wanted to share its grief and memorialize its dead with the whole country. No one can bear alone what this family must now shoulder. They are asking us to be pallbearers, to walk with them to the cemetery as they bury their dead.

In rural communities, connections between people tend to overlap. When my daughter in 12th grade called last night to say she was staying overnight at a friend's, I asked her to pass on a message to her friend's mom about the 4-H meeting group that the friend's brother is in and that I lead. My husband's Little League team includes the daughter of our first grade teacher, the son of my husband's best client, the granddaughters of our plumber, and a whole bunch of neighbor kids. I can't even keep straight who is cousins to who.

I can just imagine being a mom in that parish in Louisiana. Do you attend your best friend's son's funeral, or your nephew's? People who die young have large funerals, as the community as a whole struggles to understand and process the loss. Small towns mourn en masse, regardless of Pentagon policy. Does someone imagine that there is a place in any small town for a "private" ceremony?

I'm wondering if this will be the end of the "mourn in private" rule.

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