Faces of the fallen leave visions of futures unfulfilled

April 25, 2006|By G. JEFFERSON PRICE III

We see their names and faces, usually one or two at a time, in our newspapers, on our television screens. Sometimes we see half a dozen or more, if there's been a really bad day in Iraq.

They are the men and women of the U.S. military who have died in Iraq, the ones whose coffins the administration will not allow us to see arriving back home, whose funerals the architects of the war in Iraq have not visited.

More than 2,300 U.S. service personnel have died in Iraq since the war began. Some of them come from communities that don't have that many people living in them. We see them here and there after the Department of Defense releases their names and often their photographs.

That is shocking enough. But last week, I encountered a Web site that has all of them. Google this: "Gallery of U.S. Military Dead During Iraq War." They are all named there in page after page, along with photographs taken before they died. It is overwhelming.

They are so young, most of them. Some seem too old to have been in a war zone. Men in their 40s and 50s alongside youngsters in their early 20s, as most of them seem to be. They are from the Army and the Marines, mostly. Most of the photos show them in uniform, some in civilian clothes. Some seem ready for a fight; some look a little bewildered.

Their names and faces reflect diversity in our military. There are common Anglo-Saxon names, Irish names, Polish names, lots of Hispanic names, lots of African-Americans and Asian-Americans. All gone, long before they could find and fulfill whatever life had in store for them. Surely they were not meant to die in wretched, tormented Mesopotamia.

Some of the photos are larger than others. One of these is of a young woman named Kimberly Hampton, who died at the age of 27 on Jan. 2, 2004. She was a captain commanding a helicopter squad near Fallujah when her chopper came under fire, making her the first female pilot fatality of the war.

These details are not in the Web gallery. The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C., near where Captain Hampton lived, wrote about her. The story said Captain Hampton's parents described her as "an English major flying helicopters." I do not know how Captain Hampton and her family felt about the war and would not want to suggest she was against it. Most likely, she was not.

But the photo of her shows a young woman beaming with a bright face, dressed in a cap and gown for her graduation from Presbyterian College, where she studied English.

Looking at that photo, I wondered what might have been for Kimberly Hampton, what she might have written, who she might have taught if she had lived to do such a thing. How might she have used her mastery of our complex language and its literature to make a difference in the world? Flying was an ambition of hers from an early age, The State reported. So perhaps she was destined to be a pilot, maybe even an astronaut. The possibilities seem infinite.

So do they seem infinite in all of the faces - thousands of them now - of the men and women who lost their lives in Iraq.

Many of them, probably including Kimberly Hampton, must have wanted to be in the military, to serve their country, to keep America safe, to offer up their lives for America's security.

They did not fail us. Indeed, they made the supreme sacrifice.

It is the men and women who sent them to this war who failed us and them, who allowed these Americans to make their sacrifice on the altar of our leaders' distorted and corrupt ambitions.

They are responsible for these deaths.

G. Jefferson Price III is a former foreign correspondent and an editor at The Sun. His e-mail is gjeffersonprice@yahoo.com.

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