An Editor’s Son: Charting His Battle in Iraq, Via Press Photos, and the Prayers of Strangers

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By: Dennis Anderson

Since writing a several weeks ago in this space about an Associated Press picture I found that showed my son on the eve of the battle of Fallujah, hundreds of people have written, and hundreds more have touched my heart, offering prayers for one young man, my son.

Those prayers offered are gratefully accepted, not because it is us, one son, and one family. It?s because that one young man in the picture, for a brief moment, signifies all the sons and daughters in the line of fire in this war.

Messages of encouragement and hope came from Mike Morel, father of Capt. Brent Morel, USMC, killed earlier this year in Iraq. Also from Ty Killen, a World War II pilot veteran whose grandson, Seth Dunn, is serving with my son in 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Iraq. From Jay Harrington, whose son, Rod, was wounded in Desert Storm, and is now a gunnery sergeant with 1st MEF in Fallujah. And from the Walkers, Ken and Nancy, whose son, Allan Walker, was killed in Ramadi on April 6.

In a flash, on the Internet, a prayer was answered, a connection made via that astonishing engine of media that we bemoan and that we all consume.

Suddenly, there was another photo. Like the first one, it was posted on the ?Frontline Photos? feature of Marine Corps Times. Actually, it was a series of three photographs.

The first of three doesn?t look like my son. The face is too puffy. Exhaustion and stress will do that.

The caption says, ?Lance Cpl. Garrett Anderson, exhausted after two days of house-to-house searches in Fallujah.? The next two photos reveal that it is, indeed, him. A profile photo, weapon aimed into a flaming room, shows a distinct, familial bump in the nose. The third picture, full-face, shows my son, warily moving down those desolate streets, weapon at ready.

The pictures were taken Nov. 11 by Military Times photographer Lloyd G. Francis. They went up online on Nov. 15.

It?s statistically unnerving to see my son again in this way, considering 10,000 Americans are in the fight — a fight waged in houses, sometimes hand-to-hand.

Friends and letter writers ask, ?Have you heard from Garrett?? No. I only have the pictures and a letter. Phone centers are ?in the rear.? Grunts are fighting, not phoning.

My wife, Marie, and I had been surfing the Net, searching for news of his unit, when the pictures spilled into view. The photos offered a view of my son, in that arena, unedited, unvarnished, unrelenting. To a parent, disturbing.

Veterans render the most insightful art about war. Erich Maria Remarque?s ?All Quiet on the Western Front? says it all. William Wyler, who documented the combat flight of ?Memphis Belle? in World War II, went on to direct classics like ?Ben Hur? and ?Friendly Persuasion.?

?Friendly Persuasion,? the last film to star Gary Cooper, concerned Quakers facing invasion of their peaceful farm country during the Civil War. Peaceful people had to decide whether to follow their faith and refuse to fight or to defend their homes from Confederate raiders.

Each makes decisions of conscience. The father, played by Cooper, refuses battle, and the son, played wonderfully by a young Anthony Perkins, decides violence must be used to stop violence against family and neighbors.

The Quaker mother beseeches her son to shun violence. ?Thee has seen bad things today, Josh,? she tells him, and begs him to turn the other cheek.

The son does take up arms. He aids in saving his home country but is shot, and the father rides out to the battlefield to carry his wounded child home.

The words of that Quaker mother echo in my ear: ?Thee has seen bad things today.? I know Garrett went, schooled in violence, to prevent further violence.

My son, like all the others, will have to make it home, or not, without aid of fathers and mothers to carry them. In their fiery trial, they are beyond our dominion. Prayers will be answered in their way, and we are not given to know in what manner the answers will come. We can pray and hope.

I know this. Those heart-rending pictures of him among the 10,000 troops on the ground are one answer. After experiencing a wave of grief at graphic evidence of my son?s walk from innocence into experience, his earthly father knows that he knows his mind and heart. Amid havoc, he is at some peace.

From my son?s letter, mailed Nov. 9, the day the battle was joined: ?All you need in life is two words — love and freedom. These are the two most important words in the human dictionary. With a combination of the two a man can be complete. With that learned, I will see you when I see you. … Semper Fidelis. Garrett P. Anderson.?

Prayers are answered. We are just not given to know what the answer will be.
Update from Dennis Anderson on Thanksgiving Day: “Got a phone call two days ago. His bunch got 24 hours at base
camp for shower, meal and phone calls after a firefight. A big one. His descriptions, direct, explicit, his spirit, undaunted for the most part.

“Best part to hear from my media saturated son nurtured on the DNA of mass communication, “I’ll shoot when I have to. I’m not a non-combatant. But my job is talking on that radio. So long as I’m talking on that radio I can help get my people home.

“Friends and acquaintances killed: three. Wounded buddies from his company: a half dozen extracted to Landstuhl.”

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