By: Greg Mitchell
Marking the milestone of 4,000 U.S. dead in Iraq, The New York Times on Tuesday published a gallery of tiny photos of the most recent 1,002 fatalities. But earlier in the front section, on page 4, to draw attention to its interactive exhibit on the Web, the paper published three much larger (unidentified) photos, and one of them was quite familiar to me — if to few others.
She was Dr. Roselle Hoffmaster, and I had written about her mysterious death, at the age of 32, in Iraq just last September. Now the memory of her life, and death, came flooding back.
Why did this young, attractive, doctor, and Army captain — a graduate of Smith and Case Western, with a husband back home — pass away? Labeled from the start as a death by a “non-hostile” cause, it might have come from illness (oh, the irony), or accident (vehicle or gunfire) or, as too often the case, self-inflicted. I have written dozens of columns in the past four years about suicides (and it is a prime issue in my new book). Often the military will say from the outset that it was by accident or illness, but not suicide.
The Pentagon, as it always does, launched an investigation and denied any information to the press. In some cases, local newspapers learn, at least, what the victim’s family has been privately told, but nothing emerged on Roselle Hoffmaster in this way.
Apparently some of her friends were just as much in the dark — and haunted. I received at least three letters from her friends, asking me (as something of a known “expert” on these cases) for news. One of them was launching her own probe. She hadn’t learned anything the last I checked, and Roselle’s husband has remained silent.
Nothing new turned up in my Google search this week. She is still officially listed among the “nonhostile — accident” victims. So the mystery remains.
But to the question of “why” she died in Iraq — because she was sent there to do some good, in a bad war. Like so many others she was “killed by Iraq.”
Here is an excerpt from just a few of the personal tributes to this woman at www.legacy.com — she is just one, but perhaps an especially tragic, victim of this war.
–Roselle was a beautiful person. I never really had a chance to know her outside the hospital setting. She was an amazing physician who always did her best by the patients she cared for. Whenever she was on call, there was never a concern as she always knew what was happening. She will be truly missed as a friend, daughter, wife and physician. My condolences to the family and her close friends. We will always remember her.
–Roselle and I were childhood friends. Our families spent many New Years Eves together growing up. Although we had grown apart during our college years we still kept in touch periodically. Roselle was a remarkable person and would do anything for anyone. I know that she lived her dream by being a doctor.
–I was also in residency with Roselle at Brooke Army Medical Center. I was two yrs ahead of her in training, but always felt like she was smarter than me! Roselle was one of the most natural doctors I have ever seen… extremely intelligent, diligent, hard-working, caring and made it all look easy. I remember talking to Roselle as she was anticipating her move to Ft. Drum and her inevitable deployment. Having recently graduated from residency and spent a year in Iraq myself, we both thought that my experiences would be helpful for her. I told her that it would be a difficult year, but when she returned she would have a new perspective on life and be glad for the experience. I can’t tell you how much I wish those words were true. Roselle will forever be a reminder to me of the price of war. I am overcome w/ sadness. We will all miss her dearly.
–As one of her colleagues in the emergency department, I frequently interacted with her. She was always so patient, kind, and willing to do what was in the best interest of her patients. That was her way, she often seemed to put the cares of others ahead of her own. Her untimely death is a tremendous loss to her patients, family, friends, co-workers, the Army, and our nation. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones.
— Her death hits us in the military medicine community very hard, and we grieve for her and her family. It was an honor to know her and to serve with her.
–Roselle was truly the most sincere and gentle soul who touched the lives of those who knew her. I still remember her telling me of her meeting Gordon and I have alway admired the loving relationship that they shared. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, and the love of her life, Gordon.
Greg Mitchell’s new book is “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.” It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and foreword by Joe Galloway.