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A war, a dad, and a hero

March 18, 2007 12:36 am

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Sgt. Calvin Summerville embraces his son Jeffrey, 12, before getting on a charter bus that will take him to Fort Dix, N.J. From there, he will likely go to Iraq.

T HE PHOTO ON Page 1 caught my eye and wouldn't let go. It was taken by our photographer Mike Morones, of an Army sergeant from the area preparing to ship out to Iraq. He was hugging his 12-year-old son, who had a tear welling in his eye.

My son is 12, too, I was thinking. I hug him that way nearly every day, and it either gives me a good feeling as I prepare for the day ahead, or reminds me why a tough day at the office was worth it.

I'm not hugging him with the thought that I might never see him again.

I agree with whoever said that each year with your kids is better than the last. I can safely say that has been the case for me so far. At 12, my son has reached the age that he is thinking about and forming opinions about things that truly matter in life.

He's asking questions to which my first reaction is: Whoa--I didn't see that one coming! I try to respond appropriately, whether it's with the best answer I can muster, or perhaps with another question aimed at helping him think it through a bit more for himself.

This is absolutely wonderful stuff, and increasingly it applies as well to my daughter, who is nearly two years younger.

So I am thinking, as I stare at this photograph, how incredibly difficult this moment must have been. Not just the goodbye, not just the anticipation of being separated for a long, long time, but also the unspoken reality that this could be the last moment that this dad and son physically share with one another.

One recent evening I mentioned the photo to my son, remarking on what a tough situation that must have been for the two of them. He nodded, though I wasn't sure whether my point had sunk in.

But as I turned off his light later that night, he told me about a friend in his class, a really good student, by the way, who told him that his dad is eager to get back to Iraq for his next tour. The friend said his dad has a really important job over there, searching for and disarming enemy mines.

Since he's not on the "front lines," his friend thinks his dad might not be as vulnerable as some other soldiers. Sounds pretty dangerous to me.

I got the impression from my son that his friend is hugely proud of his dad, because it's his dad's duty to help limit the dangers his fellow soldiers face.

So now my son has turned the tables, and given me more to think about. While it might have been hard for that dad in the photograph to say goodbye, his emotions might have been mitigated by his sense of duty, the belief that he was leaving not just to serve his country, but to rejoin his outfit, get back to his job doing his part for the war effort.

Whether the war is popular is not his concern. He simply has a job to do.

For the son, his dad's absence is probably tempered by the pride he takes in his dad and the job he is doing.

The fact that his dad is willing to sacrifice this time with his family, and maybe even his life, makes him a hero in his son's eyes no matter what the future brings. The son will be the man of the family for a while, at least--a life lesson in responsibility if there ever was one. Hopefully their relationship is such that it will strengthen despite their time and distance apart.

The fact that I've been against the war from the beginning in no way diminishes my support for the troops serving in Iraq. The initial feelings of many that President Bush was taking us into the war based on faulty intelligence and a personal hatred for Saddam Hussein have been verified over the past three years.

I'm not sure what would be worse--that Bush manipulated information to make his case to the American people, or that he was too stupid or gung-ho to seek out the truth before taking action. I fear it could be a combination of the two. Obviously he declared victory a tad too soon.

The rapid erosion of Americans' support for the war is unprecedented, and mirrors the collapse of the president's popularity over the past two years.

Two presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and former Vietnam prisoner of war, and Sen. Barrack Obama, the Illinois Democrat, have apologized for saying that lives of 3,100 U.S. troops have been wasted in Iraq. Both later said they meant to say "sacrificed," but Americans will use their own judgment.

For many Americans, a soldier in battle is a soldier in battle, following orders and courageously risking his life. As you stroll through a national cemetery, does it really matter whether the death date on the headstone is 1863, 1917, 1944, 1951, 1968, 1991 or 2007? They served, they died, and they'll be remembered proudly for their roles in U.S. history.

The Vietnam experience left a generation of Americans with an aversion to war. Their willingness to accept the challenge in Iraq was contingent on it not descending into quagmire, which it did some time ago.

Even without weapons of mass destruction, or evidence of any Iraqi role in Sept. 11, Americans mourn the loss of American lives in Iraq, not the waste of lives--even if the terminology does serve as anti-Bush rhetoric.

We understand now how woefully unprepared we were to fight this "new kind of war." And we object to the president's plan to put additional troops in harm's way.

We have been down this road before. We want the dad in the photograph to return home not in a box, but rather to share the future with his son and family.

Perhaps the most shameful element of this war is our failure to prepare suitable living and convalescing conditions for the returning wounded. As with Katrina, we are as ill-prepared for the aftermath as we were for the event itself.

Those who have supported the Bush administration in the past must now acknowledge that it is completely devoid of decency or vision.

Richard Amrhine is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.



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