A Soldier’s Funeral, A Sour War
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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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A Soldier’s Funeral, A Sour War

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How can we know when a war has soured?  When the death toll is reported as a statistical aggregate on page Two B of the local newspaper.  I remember those days during the Vietnam ‘Conflict.’  I turned eighteen during the Tet Offensive – three hundred American soldiers were dying every week.  I personally knew three boys who died in Vietnam – all from rural northwest Missouri.  None of them reached their twentieth birthday.  Other than these three, all local reporting on the War was done in sterile statistical analysis.  Over time we become immune to the numbers – the troop deaths no longer warrant front page headlines.

The war sours and no one wants to eat from that table.  The soldiers are like the children at the large family thanksgiving feast – relegated to a card table in the adjoining room.  We know they are there – but we don’t want to hear them or see them.  We are too busy with our adult conversations.  In the case of Afghanistan, we are too busy ‘refudiating’ Sara Palin, Glen Beck, Keith Olberman, Ed Shultz, and other wacky pundits of politics.  We can talk for two days about how a prominent politician misused a word – while we ignore the War Statistics on the second page.

I remember a funeral I attended in early 1968.  The church sanctuary was full, the basement social room was filled with folding chairs, and many people had to stand in the street.   There was no Westboro Baptist Church offering the distraction of protest.  No motorcycle groups formed in their own manner of granting dignity to the deceased.  The young man who died in Vietnam had been a prominent singer in the church choir.  He sang in the high school spring play the year before.   I remember the silent madness of overwhelming grief permeating the stale air of an overtaxed church ventilation system.  I remember where I sat and who sat beside me.  I remember the checkerboard pattern of the tile basement floor.   I remember the anger at our government for striking this boy down in an unjust conflict with no definable end.

The next day the second page stats ticked up twenty-eight notches.  There would be twenty-eight more funerals.  Twenty-eight more preachers trying to find a way to comfort their grieving congregation.  But there was no comfort.

When I was twenty-eight my twenty-three year old brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.  I watched my family bounce around like balls in a pinball machine – careening with unknown emotions – out of control with the previously unknown phenomenon of the most heavy doses of grief.  It was an accident.  It made no sense – other than a simple understanding of the physics of mass in motion.  I remember thinking of the boy who sang in the church choir, killed in defense of questionable government policy.  I thought of his family.  Their loss seemed somehow different than ours.

Grief does not grant favors to one family over another.  The loss is the same.  The process of grief is irrational.  We seek understanding – but the understanding does not comfort – it merely distracts the mind for a few moments.  Does it make a difference if two Highway Patrol Officers knock on your door – compared with two Army Officers?   “Sorry,” the Highway Patrol says, “but a drunk driver killed your son.”  The Army Officers might say, “Sorry, but some politicians, drunk with power,  killed your son.”  Is there a difference?  What if the Army Officer said, “Sorry, but your son died defending your freedom as an American.”  Is the son less dead?  Is the grief less traumatic?  Does the statement of cause change the dynamic of grief?

Does the justification of the war change the dynamic?  I don’t know.  But I am certain of this:  We should never risk our most precious resources without a complete understanding of return on investment.  Did the Iraq War give us a justifiable return on our investment of over four thousand young Americans?  Did Vietnam?  How about Afghanistan?  These wars do not have the certainty of World War One or World War Two.   Has this paragraph reduced the discussion to mere statistics?

President Lyndon Johnson might say that the return on investment for Vietnam was the prevention of World War Three.  If that is the case then the boy from the church choir might have died as a result of a just cause.  Did the toppling of Saddam Hussein create a safer world for the next generation of Americans?   President George W. Bush and his Vice Dick Cheney would say so.  Perhaps, but we cannot know this with any certainty.

When the Afghanistan War began everyone in the world was certain of the necessity.  The terrorists who attacked America on September 11, 2001, were clearly operating with the sanction of the Afghan Government.  The goal seemed clear.  The loss of American soldiers was deemed a necessary evil.  Everyone understood and everyone agreed.  Well – all sane people agreed.

But something has gone awry with the Afghan War.  The Taliban has been dethroned from government leadership.  Al Quaeda has been chased across the border into Pakistan.  The Afghan War goes on.  Blame George Bush or Dick Cheney or Barack Obama – your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault – we are where we are.  The goals are less clear.  The justification of the death of even one American soldier is questionable.  President Obama is like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike – shouting a warning of a potential flood.  Many people seem to be ignoring the danger.

Is there danger?  I don’t know with any more certainty than any other American.  But I know what it feels like to sit at a soldiers funeral.

We Americans should never forget the cost of War.  And the death of a soldier warrants more than an incremental ticker on Page Two B.

July 24, 2010:  OK – I remember three rural NW Missouri deaths – but there were many more.  My brother sent me this list of those from St. Joseph, Missouri, who died in Vietnam.  And this reinforces the point of the post.   We have reduced the trauma to mere statistics.  This list provides the names of the fallen soldiers – acknowledging that the deaths are more that stats.

Died in Viet Nam from St. Joseph, Missouri
Name Age DOD DOB
Atkison, Charles L. 19 9/21/1969
Bell, Ronald E. 19 6/9/1968 9/26/1948
Berry, Elmer E. 32 2/26/1966 6/3/1933
Bohon, Ronald E. 20 3/23/1967 9/6/1946
Boyer, Dennis Michael 26 4/21/1970 9/17/1943
Burnett, Charles C. Jr. 27 5/14/1967 12/21/1939
Campbell, Larry G. 20 8/19/1967 12/21/1946
Casebolt, Henry Clayton 24 2/28/1966 1/31/1942
Cason, George Gilbert Jr. 21 5/31/1968 11/27/1946
Cawley, Richard E. 20 4/13/1968 5/18/1947
Crawford, James J. 30 2/3/1972 12/6/1941
Cunningham, Wells Eldon 26 8/17/1966 11/19/1939
Draut, Charles B. Jr. 22 12/19/1969 1/3/1947
Dykes, Frank F. 21 3/6/1968 8/13/1946
Fish, Gordon A. 20 1/7/1971 8/2/1950
Grenier, Joseph Kent 23 9/4/1970 10/30/1946
Helsel, Rodney Glenn 21 3/11/1970 2/20/1949
Hirtler, Ernest Lloyd 19 3/21/1971 1/29/1952
Hubbard, Robert Steven 19 5/8/1968 8/30/1948
Humphrey, Golen F. 38 2/1/1966 8/28/2027
Logan, Ronald Charles 23 3/29/1966 2/14/1943
Manley, Richard Joseph 39 4/11/1966 6/12/2026
McClellan, Edward E. 21 2/29/1968 6/9/1946
Riley, Charles F. 25 11/11/1967 9/26/1942
Stockbauer, Charles Thomas 23 7/10/1969 2/10/1946
Unzicker, Gregory Dean 20 7/17/1970 9/8/1949
Velaquez, Frank 39 1/1/1968 10/20/2028
Number of deaths per year from St. Joseph
1966 6
1967 4
1968 7
1969 3
1970 4
1971 2
1972 1

In order to further personalize the tragedy of war we are including the specific information on one soldier – this was the soldier who’s funeral I attended as a young man:

Richard Ernest Cawley

  Home of Record:  St Joseph, MO
  Date of birth:   05/18/1947

  Service:         United States Navy
  Grade at loss:   E3
  Rank:            Hospitalman
  ID No:           B614617
  MOS:             0000: Not Recorded
  Length Service:  01
  Unit:            H&S CO, 1ST BN, III MAF

  Start Tour:      02/15/1968
  Incident Date:   04/13/1968
  Casualty Date:   04/13/1968
  Age at Loss:     20
  Location:        Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam
  Remains:         Body recovered
  Casualty Type:   Hostile, died outright
  Casualty Reason: Ground casualty
  Casualty Detail: Gun or small arms fire

URL: www.VirtualWall.org/dc/CawleyRE01a.htm

ON THE WALL        Panel 49E Line 039


There Are 2 Responses So Far. »

  1. I was in the seminary with Charles Stockbauer and after high school in St. Paul, Kansas at the Passionist Fathers’ novitiate (1964). Charlie was a quiet man, very devoted to his religious intentions of becoming a monk. That year of spiritual training convimced Charlie that he wanted to go in a different direction. He left the novitiate and I heard no more from him until I found his name listed as a Vietnam ware casualty in 2005. I was shocked at the loss of someone so gentle and caring, someone so innocent. He will not again be forgotten.

  2. Thank you for this remembrance. Richard Cawley and I were boyhood friends in St. Joseph, MO. I miss him to this day.

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