|Commentary: Casualty reports beg to be read|
An Army soldier salutes a grave in Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery.
A UMNS photo by Spc. Lorie Jewell.
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Thomas H. Phillips*
Feb. 28, 2008
About three years ago I signed up to receive casualty reports from the U.S. Department of Defense.
I was looking for people from the local area that might have been
killed. One of my responsibilities is to prepare for upcoming funeral
missions as a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs chaplain and a member
of Rolling Thunder, Chapter 1, Tennessee, a nonprofit organization
devoted to publicizing and educating the public on POW-MIAs.
I didn’t know how receiving these reports would alter my life. Here’s my attempt at describing it.
The Rev. Thomas H. Phillips (right)
meets with clinical pastoral education students in August 2007 at Veterans
Affairs Tennessee Valley Healthcare
in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS photo
by Libba Gillum.
After the first 100
Each day they appear on my screen. I find myself just wanting to
place the cursor over them and press “delete” rather than open each one.
But they blink before my eyes, begging to be read and remembered.
So I click my mouse and there they are. The name, the rank, where they
died, how they died: small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenade, or the
now famous improvised explosive device. The language is so sterile.
I sit and stare. I read the name, wondering how it is pronounced. Sometimes I say it aloud just to make sure it gets heard.
No place is left untouched. Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut, Louisiana,
Iowa. Some days I wait and read them all at once. Usually I read them as
they come in. I tried to save the names in a file, but I kept getting
over the limit and had no place to put them.
Now, I open them, read them carefully – men, women, young people, middle
aged – all persons who left someone somewhere. I say a prayer for each
one as they appear and disappear on my screen. Some days, it seems that
is all I have time to do. There are so many. I’ve lost count.
The names keep coming
When I am having a really bad day, and I think I’m about at my wit’s
end, I read those little e-mails and am reminded that a terrible day is
just beginning for someone.
Someone is getting a message that there will be no more visits, no more
phone calls, no more listening to stories or playing ball in the front
lawn. Just a missing face at holiday gatherings and family meals and
anything that seems to matter. Just memories.
“Someone is getting a message that there
will be no more visits, no more phone calls, no more listening to
stories or playing ball in the front lawn.”
I wish the names could appear in the corner of everyone’s TV screen
as they watch the "Price is Right" or "House." Maybe they would slow
down some then.
I wish the names would just stop coming.
But I know better. So I watch and read and say a prayer. God be with them. God be with their families. God watch over us all.
*Phillips is a United Methodist chaplain with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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