My son, Lt Ken Ballard, was still in Germany on that day, but his unit's equipment had been on a ship for weeks and was ready to dock in Kuwait. His unit was 11 days away from flying into Kuwait to meet up with their equipment. What a stab in my heart! Why was Ken still going to fight in this awful war if major combat operations were over? We knew better and anyone who had one brain cell knew that major combat operations were nowhere near being complete on May 1, 2003. But there was our president, playing Fighter Pilot George all decked out in his flight gear. He may have had more flight time on that flight than he did many of the months he "served" in the National Guard.
On his weekly radio address Saturday morning, the president said:
There will be more tough fighting ahead in Iraq and more days of sacrifice and struggle. Yet the enemies of freedom have suffered a real blow in recent days, and we have taken great strides on the march to victory. Iraq's leaders now have laid the foundations for a democratic government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.
blah, blah, blah...He keeps telling us things are getting better in Iraq and then he says there will be more tough fighting ahead. THAT'S BECAUSE THINGS AREN'T GOING WELL IN IRAQ. Which line do you think the family of the 2400th soldier will believe?
I wrote this essay on the occasion of the death of the 1700th US soldier back in June 2005. It applies today as we mark the death of the 2400th US soldier. I'm sorry; that's all I can say to this family; I'm so sorry. I really am doing what I can to bring our troops home.
They just drove away. Your new world is black and white; it's upside down and inside out. You scream and do not recognize the pain coming from a place you never knew existed. You scream again and the sound is your soul leaving your body.You might not have even heard the words, "I regret to inform you", because all you needed was to see who was at your door and you knew. Every nightmare you had about your loved one being killed in Iraq has just come true. Every prayer for their safety on this earth will never be answered. Every deal you made was off.
You cannot possibly know, but you are not alone. 1699 other hearts broke again as we saw the number tick one more to 1700 and then 1701 and 1702. We know your pain, we know the hellish journey that you have just begun and there is nothing to say except "I'm sorry". We have hugs to offer and maybe some advice, but as the moon rises, you will be alone, knowing that your son or daughter, your husband or wife, your nephew or niece, your best friend is never coming home.The sun will come up in the morning and you may be grateful that you survived another night of your new life, not knowing how. You may be angry that you survived another night without your loved one and wonder why you live and they don't. If only you could trade places.
Some sleep easily, some with medication, some not at all. You want to sleep to fend off exhaustion, but know if you do the nightmares might enter the quiet place that once meant solace. The exhaustion just finds a deeper place inside you, another place unfamiliar to you.If you cry, and some cannot or will not, you will wonder if the crying will ever stop. You don't ever want to stop crying- how will you ever, ever, ever get your arms around this new life? You will never want to cry again; it's just so excruciating. You will wonder how one body can cry so many tears and for so many hours, days and months.
There will be phone calls, cards, flowers and food. But all you want is your old life back, knowing that your loved one will be coming home alive and well.There will be prayers and religious services. Prayers for you, prayers for your loved one, prayers for peace, prayers for strength. Some will seek comfort in their faith, some will be interminably angry at God.You never imagined signing a document called "Disposition of Remains" but there it is, your loved ones name, in black and white. That name doesn't belong there. It belongs on a letter with love from Iraq, it belongs on an email, but it doesn't belong there. You will see their name again in headlines, on TV, on letters of condolence and on other legal documents and it never feels right. His or her name doesn't belong there!
There will be questions, there will be details. You want to know all the details; you want to know none- at the same time. You have questions- so many questions and so do they. How could this be happening? What kind of funeral service, cremation or burial? Who will speak? When is the body coming home? Why is the body coming home? My son or daughter is supposed to be coming home- NOT THEIR BODY!
The flags will fly at half staff, an indication that one young friend described as "someone is sad". The flag will cover the coffin, soon to be handed to you, with the words "On behalf of a grateful nation…" Flags will arrive in the mail having flown over the state capitol or the nation's capitol. They all mean the same thing- your loved one is never coming home and someone is very, very sad.
Maybe you never heard the phrase "Pain shared is divided". We share your pain; we live & breathe your pain ever single day. While you may have never imagined you would be a part of this group, please know that you are not alone.
With love from one Gold Star Mom.