I was a Department of Defense Courier a few years back, stationed in Germany and servicing Europe and southwest Asia. We took what airflow we could get for missions. I went to Kuwait many times on a cargo-modded 747. Before returning to Ramstein, the aircraft was party to a solemn ceremony, the loading of a dead solider returning home after paying the ultimate price.
It happened every time, every single Kuwait run I was ever on. Sometimes it was one, others four or ten flag-wrapped coffins. I would read the information on the flight manifest about the soldiers. They were almost always junior enlisted women and men- people who were my own rank or less and usually 20 or 22 years old.
I always visited them in the belly of the plane. I read their names and thought about who they might have been. I felt strongly they should not have been dead, that they should not have been there. The war served no moral purpose I could fathom, that could justify the things that I saw, the costs. The rhetorical point does not help the dead. They were just soldiers. Maybe they had trusted that their country’s elected President and Congress would not expose them to mortal risk unless something truly important was at stake. Maybe they were like me, having joined before there was talk of any war in Iraq, thinking that they would be going after the bases of operation of the terror-minded militants. I don’t know.
But I know that they were brave people, willing to risk their lives for their countrymen and even for people of other lands. Whatever your politics, their sacrifice is equally poignant, their spirit equally compelling, their deaths equally real.
I always visited the fallen, to keep real to myself what the cost of war was, is, and will always be.