Valedictory for a soldier

Trae Cohee: The death of an Eastern Shore Marine brings the war on terrorism home.

January 26, 2002

NOT SO LONG AGO, young Trae Cohee served as a volunteer at the Station Street fire house in Mardela Springs, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Tomorrow he will return there one last time.

That's where the visitation and funeral will be for Staff Sgt. Walter F. Cohee III, known to his friends as "Trae" for the roman numerals following his name. The 26-year-old Marine was killed last Sunday in northern Afghanistan when his helicopter slammed into the side of a mountain.

The crash happened far from the small town of Mardela Springs where Trae grew up, played soccer and dreamed of seeing the world. But in a sobering and mournful way, his death has brought the war home to that town, and to this state.

Perhaps because America's military action against terrorists in Afghanistan has never been officially declared a war, perhaps because we're not sure who we're fighting, or whether we're winning or losing, perhaps because American casualties have been blessedly few, this shadowy "war on terrorism" has seemed a bit unreal to most Americans.

But the reality is that thousands of young men and women are risking their lives daily in the hunt for members of the Taliban, fighters for al-Qaida and their surviving leaders.

In the grand scheme of things, it matters not a jot that young Cohee, and Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan of Mendocino, Calif., who died with him, were killed in a helicopter accident during a supply mission, rather than by enemy fire. As a Navy chaplain in Kandahar, Afghanistan, reminded soldiers at a memorial service for the two men, the war on terrorism inevitably will "take blood spilled by good people." In that, this shadow war is hardly unique.

Trae Cohee was not Maryland's first casualty of the war; 57 Marylanders died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. But he was the state's first military death, and that carries with it a particular resonance. Jeanne Cohee, Trae's mother, told a television interviewer that she and the family were proud of her son, and that now they know the rest of the world is proud of him, too.

Amen to that.

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