Let me refer you to a Memorial Day story and photo package by Rocky Mountain News photographer Todd Heisler from 2005 linked to recently in The New York Times.
Times blogger Lily Burana is right about how timeless and modern, at the same time, this image of widow Katherine Cathey mourning her husband’s death, spending one last night with him before he is taken from her forever. It’s truly a heart-breaking moment.
What really caught my attention, as well, was the second photo, showing the coffin containing Marine Second Lt. Jim Cathey being loaded into the plane.
Heisler captures the moment perfectly, as Burana explains:
That photo has an equally poignant companion in the same series, a view from the civilian side, wherein Lieutenant Cathey’s coffin is being unloaded from the cargo hold of a commercial airplane in Reno, Nev., as the passengers look on through the windows. You can practically read the thoughts on their solemn faces: “Who is that?” “What if that were my son or daughter?” “I can’t imagine what his family must be feeling.” “How sad” or “How noble.” I would bet you every penny I have that not one of them was thinking, “When the hell is this going to be over so we can get off this thing?” Two parents lost their son, a wife lost her husband, an unborn child lost his father, and a handful of average citizens saw just how seriously the military treats a fallen warrior’s final trip home.
It’s a photo worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting.
But while we pause to remember those who have given their lives in the service of our country, we should also pause to consider if the cause was worth their sacrifice. Looking back over the events of the last 10 years, in the wake of the attacks on 9/11 that killed more than 3,000 people, was it worth invading Iraq at a cost of 4,400 U.S. soldiers dying and nearly 32,000 U.S. soldiers wounded?
Was it worth invading Afghanistan at a cost of 1,800 U.S. soldiers dying and more than 15,000 U.S. soldiers wounded?
Was it worth spending trillions of dollars on these operations, plus another $1 trillion estimated to treat the wounded for the rest of their lives (as they should be, let there be no mistake about that).
This is an important question, if for no other reason, because the next war (and the continuation of the conflict in Afghanistan, to which we’re committed for the next decade), will involve those who are going to elementary school today. Who are our sons and daughters, and grandson and granddaughters.
Because if we truly say we care about these veterans who paid the ultimate price for their sacrifice, their loyalty and their beliefs held in common by us all, then it is up to us to make sure that the cause is as just as their sacrifice.
We owe them that much.