One Veteran's Voice

20 February 2006

Memorial Service (Journal Enry from Nov. 2004)

Bryan Freeman

Today I was forced to attend a memorial service for a civil affairs soldier attached to our battalion. He was shot in the head by a drive-by shooter. I didn’t know him, but a few guys from our platoon had worked with him before. I was angered by the service, almost identical to one we had several weeks ago for the three guys from B co. 20th Engineers. Basically, it consisted of us standing in formation while a bunch of VIPs flown in on black hawks hobnobbed up front, some smiling and catching up with their buddies. The theme from the movie “Platoon” was playing in the background on a PA system. I wonder who else saw the irony. At the signal, the VIPs take their seats and I remain standing at parade rest on the field, along with all of the other grunts. The chaplain gives the invocation. Most of the men around me bow their heads. I do not. A few men who knew the deceased give statements about him, about how he was a great soldier and a great man. Although I have no doubt that he was; I don’t feel like I know him much better after hearing them. The closest I get is when one of the speakers mentions that the deceased, whose name was Bryan Freeman, was nicknamed B-Free. Now he is.

The battalion commander, who, judging by his remarks, had never spoken to the deceased, makes a statement about how great a soldier he was, and about how important the civil affairs work he was doing is for the people of Iraq and the success of our mission. Doesn’t he know that our mission has failed? The mission has crashed into the freaking mountain and there are no survivors. The mission is at the bottom of the fucking Marianas Trench. This soldier is dead, shot to death by the very same people he came here to help. They have spoken, and they don’t want his help. He won’t be able to give it to them anymore, anyway.

After the speakers, the chaplain addresses us again, this time giving a lesson from the book of John. Something about looking for the good in bad situations. Then they play taps and give the deceased a 21 gun salute, and the VIPs salute a pair of the dead man’s boots, rifle, and helmet. Then we, the soldiers, salute the same en masse. Then we leave. I tell a few of the guys, in jest, that I hope if I bite it that they won’t make a bunch of people who didn’t know me stand at parade rest for an hour on my account. I wonder if any one of my friends here would have the balls to speak the truth if they were called on to say a few words about me at my memorial service. I’d hope they would say that I didn’t really believe in what we are doing over here but I did it anyway because it was my job, that I didn’t die doing what I loved, that I didn’t die for the Iraqi people, that I didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice, because to make a sacrifice, you have to do it willingly-- to sacrifice your life for a cause, you have to go in knowing that you will die, or at least that there is a very good chance that you will die-- that I didn’t want to be here, or in the Army anymore, and that it was a god damn shame. Or would they just call me a great soldier and a great guy, salute my rifle, and go to dinner chow? I feel guilty, like I should feel more for the poor bastard who was killed, but I just don’t, and can’t. At some point, you just stop caring, unless you know the person. Every single young man killed over here is a wasted life. And there are many more who come home maimed for life.

I hope I don’t have to attend any more memorial services.

13 Other Voices:

jae said...

Brian-
Thank you for sharing your feelings about the memorial service.
Last week I went to a service for our friends baby...he died before he was even born. It was at that service that I came to terms with my suspicions that god is a myth. Staring the death of a stranger in the face is one thing...it is altogether different watching your friends bury their first born son.
As for your wishes for your own rememberance, you might consider making written requests to a person or persons you can depend on and give it to them in an envelope with instructions that it be opened in the event of your death. That is what I am doing.
Peace.

2/20/2006 07:31:17 PM  
TBone said...

"Doesn’t he know that our mission has failed?"

It's a shame you felt so little hope for the situation in Iraq at the time. By what yardstick did you measure success or failure? Was the fact that Iraqis were free from a brutally oppressive dictator a failure? Was the fact that Iraqis finally had a chance to set their own destiny a failure? Or was the mission a failure because our men were losing their lives for another nation?

"This soldier is dead, shot to death by the very same people he came here to help. They have spoken, and they don’t want his help."

Who is "they"? The insurgents? Do you think their actions represent the sentiment of the entire population of Iraq? Even though we weren't initially successful in our rebuilding effort, do you think we permanently made things worse for the Iraqi people? How much time do you think is needed to reestablish a working government in a new country? We were only there for less than two years at the time you wrote your journal entry - was that a reasonable time frame to expect "success"?

Was there ever a situation where you believe American soldiers had the need to fight in another country in order to free non-Americans, or to intervene for American interests? What about WW-II? Was that justified in your mind? If so, what was the fundamental difference between WW-II and Iraq? Was Hitler a threat to the US population or US interests? There was an "anti-war" sentiment at that time too. Is Europe better off now because of our efforts then?

I ask these questions for clarification and to understand what you stand for?

2/21/2006 04:01:06 AM  
Ole Blue The Heretic said...

I used to hate having to go to the dog and pony shows, all lined up in a row, slowly bending our knees so the blood would conyinue to flow, or it was down to the floor that you would go.

Those men, all with a twinkle in their eye, would come not to see who it was that died, but to show themselves as compasionate or caring, when none where daring to speak the truth.

2/21/2006 01:23:50 PM  
The Statistics said...

"Doesn’t he know that our mission has failed?"

I have to side mostly with One Vet on this one. I didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, we brought more jihadist extremists into the country and rallied the underprivileged Muslims around the world into believing the words of Bin Laden. There higher unemployment, crime and health care. Even if we establish a democracy Iraq will not become a safer better place. Nazi Germany was a product of democracy. The majority of Iraq want to side with Shia Sectarian rule, which means a decline in human rights and freedoms. It is hard to see the complete picture, and I certainly don’t have a complete grasp on the greater dynamic at play. But to this veteran, I see a failure. Unless you own stock in Haliburton.

"This soldier is dead, shot to death by the very same people he came here to help. They have spoken, and they don’t want his help."

67% of the Iraqi people support the use of violence against US forces. That is not the entire population, but the majority. Sunni alone is 97% which still means that a great amount of Shia and Kurdish share the sentiments of the insurgency. Even tho One Vet wrote this entry two years into the war, I would say it was a fairly sound prediction.

I am no peacenik. I served in kosovo as a peace keeper where I uncovered a mass grave of the genocide that was taking place there. Through intervention with the use of force and the threat of force Albanian and Serbians get along, share schools and markets and even are marrying each other.

Hitler was invading countries and Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in a preemptive strike. Using the WWII template the USA appears more like the Axis. Because we got one war right, does that mean we are right every time?

I would like to hear what one Vet has to say and I don’t mean to answer for him. But, I wonder if you are not the one stubborn and failing to see the reality of the situation. Also despite how it might appear I do respect your willingness to discuss your point of view. In this polarized nation compromise and communication are a rare commodity.

the heretic

2/21/2006 10:03:20 PM  
The Statistics said...

I would love to have the entire battalion out in formation in their dress greens popping off rounds. I want the mortars to sound and jets to fly by breaking the sound barrier. I want the god damn Golden Knights dropping out of the sky while the president of the USA says how much of a swell guy I was and to give my rotting corpse head.

the heretic

2/21/2006 10:07:23 PM  
Joe Visionary said...

If that young man did nothing but to get "this polarized nation [to] compromise and communicate" in some small way, that in itself was very significant.

If you care to reread this whole post and the comments, as an outsider I'd tell you that there is honest discussions taking place.

In the same way that a loving parent wants to influence his kids' minds for the better, if his death, even if viewed cynically, has drawn those around him to question the conventional wisdom, then his life wasn't entirely wasted.

His contribution to the Iraqis may have been where he hoped to leave his mark, but the one he left with you (us) matters more.

May he, and the many others, rest in peace.

2/22/2006 07:19:51 AM  
Anonymous said...

I remember this guy. I didn't go to his memorial service. We stopped going to them unless we knew the soldier.I heard about him, though. Wasn't he the C.A. guy that had just got there not long before he was killed? If so, this was another guy that had the knowledge, like he knew he was going to die. Can't avoid it. One of my friends shook my hand at another fallen friend's memorial service and made me promise to never meet him like that again. I kept my promise. He too was shot in the head 5 months later. And even if I could have made it to his memorial service ,I wouldn't have gone. He too, knew he was going to die. He expressed concern about it to his platoon sergeant a day or two prior. His P.S. told him everything would be ok and he'd make it back to his wife and kid.

That preminission they get before they die...I don't think it's rare.

2/23/2006 02:51:52 AM  
OneVeteran'sVoice said...

Tbone, you raise valid questions which I will try to address.

Who is "they"? The insurgents?
Yes

Do you think their actions represent the sentiment of the entire population of Iraq?

No, but, as other commenters have pointed out, they represent the sentiment of a very large number of Iraqis. They are the most extreme, but they only exist because the population allows them to, and, to a large degree, agrees with that their actions are justified.

By what yardstick did you measure success or failure?
I was told at the time that our mission was to secure Iraq, as well as to aid in the humanitarian efforts of rebuilding. To this date, I feel we have failed in both regards, and in fact, the humanitarian situation in Iraq is now much worse than it was in Saddam's time. The country is now extremely politically unstable, controlled by politicians with ties to shiite militias and ayatollahs, who in turn have ties in Iran, which is feeling its oats and realizing that by fully committing ourself and failing in Iraq, we have rendered ourselves impotent in dealing with their theocratic regime. Yes, the whole neocon experiment of premption and nation building in Iraq has been a failure to date. Unless major changes in policy occur, it's going to continue to fail.

Even though we weren't initially successful in our rebuilding effort, do you think we permanently made things worse for the Iraqi people? How much time do you think is needed to reestablish a working government in a new country? We were only there for less than two years at the time you wrote your journal entry - was that a reasonable time frame to expect "success"?
Only time will tell, but I have a feeling that once we leave Iraq, the situation is going to get progressively better. There is also the possibility of a total meltdown, widespread civil war, and who knows how that will end up. I think that two years is a reasonable time frame to expect progress, and not much was made, at least in my view of events on the ground.

Was there ever a situation where you believe American soldiers had the need to fight in another country in order to free non-Americans, or to intervene for American interests? What about WW-II? Was that justified in your mind? If so, what was the fundamental difference between WW-II and Iraq? Was Hitler a threat to the US population or US interests? There was an "anti-war" sentiment at that time too. Is Europe better off now because of our efforts then?

In my view, war is the result of the worst human qualities being expressed on the largest scale, and it is eventually going to destroy the earth if we can't learn to stop doing it. With that said, war seems so much a part of our nature that I wonder if it is possible for us to not engage in it. I'm really not in the business of justifying wars, but I think that most times, any benefits accrued by war by a country or the human race as a whole are vastly outweighed by the suffering, destruction, and waste of resources that war entails.

All said, fighting is sometimes the only response to an aggressor, if one wants to save his or another's life. I suppose Christians should always turn the other cheek, but I'm a heathen. I would still fight to defend myself or my home, but I will never again fly halfway around the world to fight people I haven't even met. In that situation, I was the bully. And don't educate me on 9/11. I know all about it, and I know that no Iraqis were involved. Why not spread democracy in saudi arabia, or north korea, or iran, or syria, or china? Why not preempt the powers which actually pose a threat (Iraq, it seems, posed little) to Americans? This is an ideological war, and we don't even have any coherent ideology to stand on. At this point, we need to extricate ourselves from the situation in Iraq as fast as possible without resorting to a Vietnam style rush to the embassy. Saving face is important, but we are never going to 'win' a guerilla war in Iraq over democracy. I don't know how many more Bryan Freemans will be killed by Iraqis before America realizes that the mission has failed, but I hope the number is in the dozens or hundreds, and not the thousands or tens of thousands. Some wars seem to have succeeded in attaining their objectives, as long as they are limited (i.e. destruction of another culture or government or military, acquiring territory, ect), but the modern ideological wars are failures. How can you kill an ideology with bullets?

I believe that the only valid reason to engage in war in the modern age is to stop genocide. We have a pretty horrible track record when it comes to that. Bill Clinton's stated biggest regret is not getting involved in Rwanda. No t many people in the US give a fuck about anything that happens in Africa, even though most of the world's wars are going on in Africa. Why? Cause of racism, and mostly because we have few economic interests there. Are we really fighting for democracy, or are we fighting for oil and self-interest? Are we helping to stop genocide or pouring gas on the fire? Are we hurting ourselves in the long run by helping ourselves eek through the present? Is anything we're doing in Iraq helping to secure Americans? Is it even helping to secure Iraqis? Would our nations resources be better used at home or as aid to developing nations, rather than for bullets and bombs in Iraq? War can only be justified by facts, not by wishing, hoping, or through propaganda. The more facts I learn, the less just this war seems.

2/23/2006 03:28:58 PM  
JamesRaven said...

From a similar and sad situation,The Psychotic Patriot blogs the incredibly stupid and heartlessly timed removal of a mother's memorial to her fallen son, and it wasn't vandalism. It happened just before Bush visited the area. Please pass this around, and if you blog, please post about this travesty.

James

2/23/2006 04:33:48 PM  
TBone said...

OV V,

Thanks dude. I feel some of what you're saying. In theory, you're right. War's destructive component might not be worth the possible benefits. Following your logic...and don't take this wrong, but perhaps Europe (and the world) would have been a more stable place had the Nazis been allowed to rule. I mean why did we fight them? They didn't do anything to us. There was no need for tens of thousands of Americans to die over there. Right?

2/24/2006 03:18:39 AM  
Snag said...

Tbone, glad to see you getting around.
Your Nazi analogy missed One Vet's point...the Nazis were invading other countries. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, we went to war (although I suspect more people in the U.S. could place France on the map then than they could Kuwait in '91) which I still thinm the reasons were dubious.
Can you tell me why we're protecting democracy for these people, many of them anti-western Islamists rather than say the Sudanese with a significant Christian population. Or Pakistan with a virtually dictatorial strongman in charge? Angola?
To clarify, I don't care about one's cultural background, I only use these examples for the sake of argument.
If we're looking for staging bases, Afghanistan comes to mind. If we're looking for terrorists, several other countries come to mind as stronger supporters of it. If we're looking out for U.S. economic interests (i.e. oil) Russia comes to mind ( more oil under Siberia than all of the middle east). If we're looking to democratize a threatening nation, N. Korea comes to mind. What's left? Individual economic interest comes to mind. Carlyle Group anyone?
Sorry for your very understandable jadedness, One Vet.

2/24/2006 08:23:24 AM  
Joe Visionary said...

I would think that the magnitude of imperialism and conquest separate the Hitler's Nazis from Saddam Hussein. There's no comparison.

Furthermore, after his wings had been clipped in Kuwait, what more conquest was he guilty of? Of crimes against his own people? Again, on the world stage, is he the biggest that he should have been targetted by America?

You're all closer to this matter than am I, so forgive me if I got it wrong, but OVV's last comment is hard to dispute.

2/24/2006 02:03:38 PM  
Bob Higgins said...

I have felt the same way many times.
You expressed what I felt better than I coud have. Would you mind if I reprint your post on my blog at Air America.

BobHiggins
rlh974@yahoo.com

2/25/2006 11:50:01 AM  

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