California Editor Grapples With Another Local Death in Iraq — This One #4000

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By: Dennis Anderson

Funerals and memorial services impose demands on any who speak at them. Will they find the right words? And it’s important not to blunder through the emotions.

So it was this past week when Cynthia Delgado, sister of 21-year-old George Delgado searched through her heart for the words to say about her brother, who was killed in Baghdad on Easter Sunday: “I always thought that I was the one who was protecting him. I was afraid people would take advantage of him, because of his smile … and then it turns out, he was protecting us.”

Before finishing her eloquent remarks during memorial services for the fallen soldier his congregation, Desert Vineyard Christian Fellowship, she closed with, “He was a hero for all of us.”

During the memorial Thursday, the soldier’s father, Elias Delgado, also spoke. He began in his native Spanish, and shifted into English.

“Forgive me, I do not want to say anything wrong,” he said. “I do not want to make this political.”

Listening to a father try to speak from his heart, the gnawing doubt about the Iraq war and its many follies was evident as he struggled. His son counted in the 4,000th killed, among three other soldiers. Killed with Delgado were Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Hake, 26; Pfc. Andrew J. Habsieger, 22; and Spc. Jose A. Rubio Hernandez, 24. The four were assigned to the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat team, 3rd Infantry Division, based out of Fort Stewart, Ga.

“It seems,” Elias Delgado said in labored English, “that something is wrong there. Something is wrong. That maybe if they had planned right, my son would not be dead.”

Quickly, the elder Delgado went on to add, “Do not get me wrong. George tell me, ‘I love the Army.’ America,” the elder Delgado said, “is a great country. My son, he loved this country, and he loved the Army.”

And it was clear, Pfc. George Delgado loved the Army. Remarks of his fellow GIs attested that Delgado found himself in the military.

The ones we lose, and the ones we keep, in this time of terrors, simply are the most adventurous and, yes, the bravest souls of their generation.

But as a parent, one can be a good American and easily wonder that “something is wrong” somehow in how the war in Iraq was planned and executed.

At the same moment, one’s eyes can fill with tears at the valor and the excellence of our troops, and nearly be overwhelmed when the announcements of death come in, and it is time to head out to another soldier’s funeral among the more than 4,000 so far. Small in contrast to other wars and still too many.

At funerals for our troops brought home to the Antelope Valley, a steady contingent of memorial visitors are the Blue Star Mothers of the Antelope Valley, mothers of grown children with troops in service.

Also, every time one of our own is brought home, carried by military honor guard in the casket with the flag on it, there are the Gold Star parents. These are that small, devastated, still-suffering and courageous contingent of mothers and fathers who lost a son in Iraq.

They show up to give respect, to share grief and, most importantly, to let the mother and father and family of a fallen American fighting person know they are not alone, they will be supported, they will be loved.

Our Gold Star parents reflect the divide of opinion about the Iraq War.

I know those who believe the war must be fought and won, and their opinion is fiercely held.

I know those who wonder how and why our very small military – fewer than one in every 200 citizens – has been left to carry the entire burden of this war while the rest of the nation shops or frets.

A couple Gold Stars I know believe the war was – and is – folly and their splendid children’s lives were wasted.
When your flesh and blood is ripped untimely from the grasp of your love, you are entitled to have any emotion or response you choose.

At the Antelope Valley Press, we have the privilege, the honor, the duty, the sad responsibility to report each soldier death, the death of each Marine, the death of any of our troops taken in this war.

Our belief resides in the same equality in reporting news of death that each of our troops in service fought for in life. It’s front-page news.

We seek contact with family, but do not pursue or harry them. They need time to themselves to grieve, to arrange their thoughts. For us they are not a media “get” like getting a guest for a TV talk show.

Such death requires obituary biography detail and, really, because the deceased died in protection of Americans and the interests of this nation, each of these deaths requires editorial tribute.

We think that is right. So, even jaded media people can be shocked.

“You probably won’t like what I have to say,” one caller said. “But I’ve never seen so many pictures. Why don’t you do them all the same?”

Assurances were given to the reader that similar coverage was afforded all of our troops, and the caller said he doubted it, and would check.

It was the same kind of call, and insinuating tone, that occurred last year when we were covering the death and memorials of a soldier who happened to be a man of color. “Why,” I was asked, “did he get special treatment?” Egad, what some people will think is beyond words.

Our country grapples with issues of equality, of race, of mutual resentments about perceived entitlement, but good God Almighty, if there is a place where equality is written in blood it is in the honorable lives and too sad deaths of all of our troops in service.

Our warriors gone, we miss them all.

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