Death Comes for the Lance Corporal

September 06, 1994|By STEPHEN HUNTER

Oct. 32, 1994

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Jackson

Rural Rte. 578, Harmony, Md.

Dear Mr and Mrs. Jackson, The Department of Defense regrets to inform you that your son, Lance Corporal Dennis Jackson, 21, of Alpha Platoon, 2nd Marines, 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit, died today of wounds received while conducting military operations just outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Death came to him in the cruelest of forms as it often does in combat; while on routine patrol with elements of Alpha Platoon, he was hung up on wire at a crossroads. At first it was kind of funny. Dennis, his buddies shouted, Dennis, you can get your butt tangled up in anything, man! Dennis was laughing too. You should have seen him, it was so funny. Then the bullet hit him in the throat and he slipped to the ground. His eyes got wide. There was so much blood. He was crying for his mother, and he died in the arms of a corpsman who didn't know his name. We did call in napalm on the sniper and everybody else in the neighborhood, and as press reports have noted, casualties are light.

As for Dennis, what can we tell you? You probably knew him

better than we did. He appeared to be a good Marine who did his job and followed his orders. He had no Article 15s, stood no captain's masts and he achieved his rank in an adequate but not spectacular amount of time. We believe he did his duty. God bless America.

You say he worked on the farm summers? You say he played football, and never made varsity but was proud of his JV letter? You say he dated a girl named Mary Sue Carson, but she dropped him when she went off to the University of Maryland and he could only get into the community college?

Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, we really don't care. It's far more important, big-picture-wise, that the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, be returned to power. One Aristide is worth any number of Dennis Jacksons, 21, of Rural Route 578, Harmony, Maryland. After all, we have restored democracy in Cuba, China, Iran, Iraq and many other places; we have fought for Kurds and Tutsis and Moluccans and Nicaraguans. Why not in Haiti?

You say Dennis did OK in math, less well in history and less well still in English? You say he especially liked to drive the tractor, and you have a fading ribbon of 8-millimeter film, in which he is sitting, 7 years old, on his father's lap in the haze of an Eastern Shore autumn, amid the high stalks of unharvested green corn, the wind ruffling his shock of blond hair, his cheeks red as apples, his arms pumping blissfully in the mighty thunder of the moment, his happiest on earth? You say you will look at that film once a week for the rest of your lonely and embittered lives?

Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, of Harmony, Maryland, consider, if you will, the larger issue. The prestige of the president of the United States is at stake. That certainly is worth more than the life of a single lance corporal.

Tell the truth, now. Did this young man really show much promise? His grades weren't high, his IQ wasn't outstanding, he was a good worker but a follower, not a leader. He wasn't even college material. He probably would have come home and worked on the farm, his life would have been as flat and meaningless as those far-flung Delmarva horizons. He would have been nothing under those great blue skies laden with clouds. The corn -- yes, it's a good summer for corn on the Eastern Shore -- would have dwarfed him.

You see, Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, your son was a little person. He was born little, he would have lived little, he died little. He really doesn't matter very much.

The prestige of America, the image of our leader the president, our place in the world, the fate of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, all these issues are much more important than Dennis, and all these issues have been decided by men much smarter than Dennis.

Enclosed please find his possessions: A postcard to you he didn't have time to mail, the National Defense Ribbon, which means nothing, an uncashed check which may be endorsed to your account with the proper identification, and a picture of Mary Sue Carson, who dumped him, senior year, and probably wouldn't have taken him back. She's dating a guy in pre-med now.

Not much to show for a life, is it, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson? There

are things in this world far more important than Dennis Jackson, 21, formerly of Rural Route 558, Harmony, Maryland, and Alpha Platoon, 2nd Marines, 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit. Have a nice day,

The United States Government.

Stephen Hunter is The Sun's movie critic.

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