Friday, May 26, 2006
I want to tell you about one soldier that will be remembered this Memorial Day. 1Lt Kenneth Michael Ballard of Mountain View, California was 26 years old when he was killed in a fierce battle in Najaf, Iraq on 5.30.04. His gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery is plain. That headstone in Section 60, Site 8006 tells when he was born and when he died. It describes his valor and heroism with his medals, his 3 Bronze Stars, 2 with valor and his Purple Heart.
But you need to know more than that about Ken. You need to know this because you sent my only child to his untimely death. You are keeping our members of the military in harm's way in Iraq and you have the power to bring them home and to stop this senseless killing.
Ken was my only child. He was the oldest of 15 grandchildren. I raised Ken on my own for 25 years and I loved him a lot. So did his aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and his large circle of friends. He loved any kind of music as long as it was loud, Mexican food and driving his truck. He was so proud to serve his country as a 4th generation Army Officer. As a Platoon Leader and young Lieutenant, he loved his guys and they loved & respected him.
A mother wants to know her child is loved, but she doesn't want to find that out at his funeral when he is only 26 years old. And she surely doesn't want to watch his 26 year old friends bury their best friend. There is just something not right with that picture, but there is nothing right about this story.
A mother wants to watch her son grow to be the man he would have been. She wants to see him gaze into the eyes of the woman who will be his wife, and a mother wants to dance with her son at his wedding. She wants to hold his firstborn, counting the fingers and toes of this, her first grandchild. Would that baby have had the same cleft in their chin- just like their daddy? I'll never know because my baby came home in a box covered with a flag.
My son took an oath to defend the Constitution and to obey the orders of the President of the United States. In return, his Commander in Chief and this country owed him the TRUTH about the mission and why he and his men were going into harms way. They should never be sent into combat without suitable equipment or proper training.
They should never be sent to into war without proper planning and without an exit strategy. They should never be sent into hostilities unless it is our last option. In March of 2003, there were other options.
You sent my only child to his untimely death. You are keeping our members of the military in harm's way in Iraq and you have the power to bring them home and to stop this pointless killing.
When you visit that cemetery to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies and proclaim the words of a grateful nation, look beyond the names on the headstones. Know there is a loving, broken family left behind every single one. Think about Ken. Look at his face; look at his eyes. He is one of 2463 US soldiers to die in this illegal war so far. He was the 100th soldier from California to die in Iraq. Ken is not a number, he's not a statistic. Think about Ken and the life that was stolen from our family when you vote to continue funding this war. It is time to end the lies. It is time to put up a vigorous fight to come up with an exit strategy that will end this war now. Do that because it is the right thing to do. Do it for Ken and for me. No other family should have to travel this hellish journey.
Where will you be on Memorial Day? What will you do to really honor our soldiers? I will be at Arlington National Cemetery on this Memorial Day 2006.
It will have been two years since Ken was brutally killed.
Lt Ken Ballard 7.21.77 -5.30.04
p.s. Happy Birthday Patrick & Travis, Gold Star sons
Thursday, May 25, 2006
I had a meeting scheduled to discuss financial issues at my job at 10:30. My co-worker had arrived at my office and we were just about to get started when my cell phone rang. Calls from Ken in Iraq always had caller ID, but it never came through the same path., so they were always my mystery caller. It was a pretty good chance that calls from Georgia or Chicago were from Ken. We laughed about it, but never figured it out.
I waved my co-worker off, signalling that it was a call from my son! I was always overjoyed to hear Ken's voice, especially that month. Ken always sounded tired and he had a scratchy voice from breathing all those sand particles. Since their unit had been extended back in early April, they had been in constant battles, and in May that was the case every single day.
We talked about alot of things, 37 minutes worth. Nothing special, expect that it was the last phone call and we didn't know it. We talked about his plans for his 30 day leave, the people who he would visit, the foods he had been craving and about the computer he wanted to buy. I asked him to buy me some prayer beads to give to my women friends who had been such a support to me while Ken was deployed. Ken said he would pick some up in Kuwait on his way back to Germany. Then he laughed and told me he thought he would pick up some burqas for us instead. He thought that was pretty funny.
One of the things Ken dreamed about was the BMW he was going to order for himself when he got back to Germany. In that last phone call, he told me it would be blue and he told me the model number. I think that was one of the things that removed his mind from his days and nights in Iraq.I had an radio interview early the next morning on our local ABC affiliate, who had taken to calling me the "Mom from Mountain View". The Bay area is not the military community as it had been previous to the 80's and the morning news team at KGO was interested in my viewpoint as the mother of a soldier who had been extended; we had first started talking early in April. Although I was very nervous in those early days, the host was extremely kind to me. I would sit and wait to go on the air taking deep cleansing breathes, thinking, "it's just my pal Ed and me- NOT 50,000 watts reaching who knew how many listeners?" The thing about those live interviews is, you never know what they are going to ask you.
The interview that Friday morning was not much different than the others, except that it was the Friday before that big holiday weekend, woo hoo, Memorial Day! A day off from work, BBQ, going to the beach!
Being raised in an Army family, Memorial Day was meaningful to me and I reminded the listeners that there were 135,000 soldiers serving in Iraq, who were far from their families and to please lift a cold one in their honor as they were lighting up their own barbeques and enjoying their day off. I also said that the day before had been a "bonus day" for me, I had received a letter AND a phone call from Ken.
I didn't know how many people were listening that morning, but I heard from so many people after Ken was killed who told me they heard my Memorial Day message and took note to remember the soldiers.
That we were notified that Ken was killed on Memorial Day is no coincidence. Forever, those who knew Ken or knew of him will always remember why we celebrate Memorial Day. I hope you will do the same.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
A few years back, I think Ken was still alive then, General Franks appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. Dave made a comment about the small number of deaths in Iraq at the time. Franks chastened Dave and basically said that any death was too many in war. Dave was appropriately contrite and agreed. I cried that night and thought there was one general in the military who "got it". But once again, I was fooled and I retract that. I was wrong. Tommy Franks is sipping the koolaid of the administration and I don't get it.
At a recent speech to the NRA (no surprise) in Wisconsin, he said that GI deaths is the cost of security in this country
Those who count the increasing number of American soldiers killed in Iraq are missing the bigger picture, retired Gen. Tommy Franks said Saturday night. "What we're talking about is neither 2,400, 24,000 or 240,000 lives," Franks said at the National Rifle Association's annual banquet. "Terrorism is a thing that threatens our way of life. It doesn't have anything to do with politics.".
Any number more than zero would be too many in this mess in Iraq. Until one of his loved ones is under fire in Iraq, of course it doesn't matter what the number is. We are talking about the son's and daughters of this country, our most precious resource, that have been squandered, and to accomplish what? This war was wrong, it is wrong and it will be wrong and we must bring our troops home now.
This administration has insured that terrorism has grown. With the invasion of Iraq and the lack of planning to secure the country, the borders of Iraq were wide open to Al-Qaida. Party in Iraq! let's get some live fire training on Americana soldiers. Do we feel safer as a country since the invasion?
We have to secure ourselves. We have to secure our Constitution.
Secure the Constitution? Oh, please, he's talking to the wrong audience. He needs to talk to his pal in the White House, who has been accused of calling the Constitution a "[expletive] piece of paper".
I don't care about your politics. I don't. It makes me think about going into politics.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Ken threatened to change his flight plans and not let us know which airport where he would arrive to avoid any kind of extra attention. He knew should have known better. He knew his mother and his favorite aunts would find a way to hunt him down, he knew he was no match for our feminine wiles. There would be flags and banners and probably music. My family is far and above most when it comes to airport welcomes and this would be the mother of all welcomes. These lively discussions were part of the decompression that was necessary for all of us to put this year in Iraq behind us.
Ken & I talked about him flying home 1st Class. He said he earned it and I couldn't agree with him more. That decision would wait, we still had 6 more weeks until the unit returned to Germany.
As you know by now, it turned out to be a different kind of welcome home and much sooner than we expected.
Instead of Ken's famous breathtaking hug, I was given a flag covered casket and his dog tags. I wear the dog tags near my heart; that's where Ken is now and forever.
The Army classified Ken as "non-viewable" due to his mortal injuries. It was just as well, I didn't want to see his dead body anyway. I didn't want that to be the lasting memory of him. I told the funeral director, "If you can't make him look like Ken, then I don't want to see him anyway". He told me that task was much more difficult with younger people, but that discussion took place before Ken 's body arrived home, so I don't know how bad it really was. I didn't question the judgment of the Army and based on reading the autopsy several months ago, I know it was the right decision for me.
I do wish that I had gotten a lock of his hair from the funeral home, although from what I could tell in his most recent photos from Iraq, his haircut was high and tight. The best I could have gotten was crumbs of hair, not a lock, but I can still wish for that.
May 22. Yes, this was the day that Ken would have been welcomed home by his family and friends and those people who dutifully sent CARE packages to Ken and his guys. They were my strength and my spirit when Ken was gone those 384 days. I could not have made it through the year without them. In a way, he became everyone's son.
I feel like I am in a tsunami, going down for the third time. When will it stop hurting so much? There's nothing to like about this day or this month.....
p.s. Happy Birthday to Jonathan , Evan and Casey- ALL Gold Star sons
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The Army surgeon general is warning that the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER" is so graphic that military personnel watching it could experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD? Got it already and I don't need to know what the symptoms are, I know them upside, downside, inside and out. As the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, it did not trigger any of that for me; I experience those symptoms every day. To see this compelling film only validated what I know or at least what I think I know about the excellent and professional care and concern given to our young military men and women when they are wounded or killed.
This documentary is introduced as a tribute to the "heroism and staff of 86th Combat Support Hospital". The Surgeon General's office also said "This film will have a strong impact on viewers and may cause anxiety for some soldiers and family members." uh, yeah.... but not like I thought. The amputation they showed was war. The blood and the wounds were war. The gallows humor in the operating room is war. The tears were real and so was the grief.
What got to me was the personal stuff. One of the patient/soldiers has the same green eyes that Ken had. It broke my heart when an injured soldier called his mom and you could hear her voice change when her world back home collided with a hospital halfway around the world. A mom never really knows what is behind the words in a phone call from the war front, so even though this soldier said he was okay, I know his mom didn't believe him.
What also touched me was the comaraderie between the staff. They will see things in that ER that we or their peers at home will never see. They will see things that will never be spoken of outside of the boundaries of Iraq, but this hospital staff will bear these scars until they breathe their last breath.
I couldn't help but wonder how different my journey would have been had Ken been wounded instead of killed. What if, what if? What if he wasn't killed instantly and heroic measures were made to keep him alive? I don't take that litle trip. It is what it is, this new normal of mine.
As the ER chaplain stood over each of his patients who died, he prayed that the "life and death of this soldier would hasten the cause of peace and end this senseless war". How could a military chaplain feel any other way?
Baghdad ER should be mandatory viewing for every person in this country. They should know that war is brutal and graphic and ugly and raw. This is not Hollywood but it is reality for over 20,000 soldiers who have been killed and wounded and their families.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
I said I was angry on Mother’s Day and this anger is not going away. It's parked in my heart, the engine is revving. It’s different, too, this time; it is a raging anger towards the administration, people who don’t care or even think about this effing war and the fact that my only child came home in a flag covered box and finally anyone who is dumb enough to cross me. And I just miss Ken so much. What do you do with this kind of rage?
The day I was told that Ken was killed I vowed I would fight for everything that he had earned, every honor and every dignity. I have had no fear when it came to fighting for what was right for Ken and other military families. I have told anyone who I have dealt with, their rank or title did not impress me; I only wanted the truth. It was the right thing to do. Through all of that, my anger was contained and controlled.
There's a dirty secret that no one talks about that most Gold Star moms are at an age approaching or well into the “change of life”. Hormones are misbehaving, depression comes and goes, moods are swinging and thinking might be fuzzy. We don’t know if what we are feeling is hormones or grief. If we could control one or the other, maybe we could *know* what we are feeling instead of feeling everything at once. It’s just so damned unfair.
I am also feeling fragile these days. Fragility plus anger doesn’t compute; they seem diametrically opposed. I AM NOT A FRAGILE PERSON! One second, I feel as if I will dissolve in the ocean of tears that just won’t stop, and the next second, I could push the same ocean back.
May has been a milestone month in Ken’s and my life. Back in 1978, when Ken was 10 months old, I left my marriage behind in New York on Memorial Day as we headed back to California. Fast forward to May 2002, Ken graduated from college and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt in the Army. In May 2003, he left for Iraq and in May 2004, Ken was the 100th soldier from California to be killed in this hideous war.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Until May 13, 2006 I never met someone who met that description.
I cannot explain why Richard Perle was at the Eyes Wide Open exhibit in Washington DC last weekend. There were 2437 empty pair of combat boots, representing the empty American lives left behind in this war, the human cost of war. I thought it strange that he would be there standing on the edge of the exhibit, almost as if overseeing the damage he did as the architect of this war.
A few of us Gold Star Moms saw him hovering, as if a vulture over his prey. The reasons to confront him were not complicated. We approached the area and when people realized who we were, they let us in. First Celeste, Sherwood's mom asked him why. When my turn came, I introduced myself and told him to look into my eyes and tell me why my only child came home in a flag covered box? He couldn't answer, of course. He gave some kind of lame patronizing, response about democracy in Iraq in many years. I asked him if it was worth it and he couldn't give a good response to that either. I pointed to the photo of Ken on my shirt and said, look at this face, tell me why! He wouldn't look.
I walked away from the confrontation into the arms of some of the other Gold Star families and cried. "They don't care, they just don't care" If I thought for one minute that they cared about the damage they have done, the overwhelming sadness that they have caused to the families, I might think differently, but they just don't care.
I wonder if he had ever met someone who was so violated by his war? If he hasn't, then my pain of confronting him was worthwhile. He cannot say he hasn't been touched by this war.
I had a radio interview after the confrontation and told them the story. The interviewer asked me what it was like, meeting Richard Perle. I asked her, "Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone who has no soul? His eyes have no life in them; it was frightening.
These people have evil in their eyes and in their hearts. There is a special place in hell for all of them.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
For a long time after Ken was killed in Iraq nearly 2 years ago, I would stand in the shower and cry until the water turned cold. I couldn't tell the difference between tears and the shower; I didn't want to know and I didn't care anyway. I still cannot imagine how one person can cry so many tears for hours and days and months. I had one of those showers Mother's Day morning. Even if I hadn't wanted to cry, it wasn't under my control.
Having spent the weekend in Washington DC with other military families, many of them, my fellow Gold Star Moms and Dads, it seemed fitting we spend Mothers Day morning at Arlington with our “boys”.
Many people ask me why Ken is buried at Arlington and it is complicated and simple at the same time;there are many reasons. One of the reasons is that Ken has many more visitors at Arlington than he would in California. I like knowing that people visit Ken. He loved being a soldier and when he died, his life became a part of the history of this country, and for a soldier, where else should you be buried?
Three moms from our group, Gold Star Families Speak Out have our boys buried at Arlington, Tia, Diane and me. Tia and Diane & Neil Sr live on the east coast so they are able to visit more often. I know when they visit David & Neil, Jr, they visit Ken, also . I like knowing that.
Diane had written a few passages and prayers, so we had sort of a prayer service this morning. Besides, Tia and Neil & Diane, there was Celeste, Al and Raphael, Sherwood's parents and brother; Sue & Greg, Seth's mom and stepdad; Summer, Steven's mom; Carlos & Melida, Alex's dad and step mom; Elaine, Darrius' mom; Derek & Lorene, Seamus's mom & dad. We were a mournful group joined by some of our Blue Star friends, Charlie & Nancy from Military Families Speak Out and some others. How brave they were to be in our world.
When I stand at Ken's grave at Arlington, I am fiercely angry to think that people accuse me of being unpatriotic because I do not support the president. I want those people to come and stand with me or any Gold Star parent for that matter. I want them to look out at rows and rows and rows of these white granite headstones. Ken was the 89th soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan when he was buried on October 22, 2004 in Section 60. Since then, nearly 150 soldiers more have been buried at Arlington.
I know the president goes to Arlington for official purposes; laying the wreath at the unknown. All of that looks good in the media, but it is so removed from the reality of this war. I wonder if this president has ever walked through Section 60. Has he read the names and wondered about the lives and promises lost? I don't think so and I don't think he cares anyway.
Friday, May 12, 2006
I am in Washington DC this Mothers Day weekend for Eyes Wide Open, the America Friends Service Committee exhibit of empty combat boots-, representing the human cost of war . On the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, lay 2436 empty boots representing the US military lives that have been lost i Iraq. So many many empty lives.
On Saturday, there will be a Silent March around the National Mall made up of families and people who have been affected by this war in Iraq.
I will be one of the speakers after the march. Had I unlimited time to speak, I would say this:
This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day as a day to give thanks to the women in our lives. The greeting cards show flowers and hearts; the breakfast is served in bed and dinner’s are away from home so there are no dishes to wash. It is a cozy and loving day to be spent with family.
While our country is entering the fourth year of the war in Iraq and hostilities continue in other parts of the world, and hundreds of thousands of mother’s are separated from their loved ones, it is fitting that we know one of the origins of the Mother’s Day in the United States. The first vision of Mother’s Day was not so sweet and innocent.
Julia Ward Howe was a well known abolitionist during the Civil War. After the war, her efforts turned to pacifism and other similar endeavors. In 1870 she was the first to proclaim Mother's Day, with her Mother's Day Proclamation. It was to be a day dedicated to peace. She pondered the question
"Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the
Arise then...women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearnAll that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, Will be too tender of those of another countryTo allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
As a mother whose son, my only child, was killed in Iraq nearly two years ago, I wonder about the soul of this country as the death toll rises every day and yet there is silence from the mother’s of this nation. Are they silent because they fear if they acknowledge this terrible war, then it might come home to rest on their own doorstep? Why are there no heartbreaking pleas to stop the madness? Do we feel so helpless that we cannot stop the war machine that rumbles on destroying lives and families? Do we feel so hopeless that we are paralyzed and cannot speak out to demand truth and honesty from the leaders of this country? I wish I knew.
I raised a great man who was proud to serve his country. Ken cared about his friends and family and he was blessed to have plenty of both. We were lucky to have had him in our lives for 26 years. But it was only 26 years. Ken had spent 384 days in Iraq and he was killed during a fierce battle on May 30, 2004. To think that this Sunday will be the 2nd Mother’s Day that I won’t be hearing from him is heartbreaking. He won’t come bounding into my bedroom with the greatest greeting card that he always took such pride in picking out for me. This year, instead of going to the beach as we always did, I will be spending this special day with my son at his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. When the first stars twinkle in the sky that night, I will look to those stars and hope that he is happy where he is. I will ask those same stars, “Will I ever know happiness again?” I wish I knew.
2436 families have suffered the most grievous loss in this war. Reports say that the administration was DEAD WRONG in their reasons for going to war; meanwhile my son is just DEAD.
For mothers who are lucky enough to be surrounded by their children and for those of us who are lucky enough to have our mothers in our lives, give hugs and give thanks.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Today in Atlanta at the Southern Center for International Studies, Ray McGovern, a 27 year CIA analyst took the lead at a meeting with Rumsfeld. Ray McGovern is well qualified to call Rumsfeld on his lies. Wikipedia has a nice biography of him. He was a federal employee under 7 presidents and is former CIA chief for the Middle East, and a former CIA operations officer, making him a veteran of the CIA’s clandestine service, which manages the agency’s counterterrorism center, espionage and paramilitary operations. He recently returned his Intelligence Commendation Award medallion to Congressman Pete Hoekstra, R-MI, and Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His credentials are pristine. On my journey, I have met Ray on a few occasions and found him to be thoughtful and very intelligent- and he's a nice man.
Here's what the BBC had to say about the meeting today
What does anyone in this administration know about trust? There is plenty of empirical evidence to support the allegations that this country was lied to, to convince us that we needed to go to war and that this administration had exhausted all options and this invasion was the last choice. Whenever anyone from the adminstration says that now, they just sound like a broken record. So, now they are lying about their lying. It's unbelievable.
McGovern: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary, that has cause these kinds of casualties?"
Rumsfeld: "Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then."
Secretary Rumsfeld responded that U.S. forces in Iraq during the war used chemical suits because they also believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, because of the intelligence reports and because he had used such weapons before. He also said allegations that officials lied to justify the war are 'untrue,' and that such charges are 'destructive' of the trust needed in a democracy.
Thanks, Ray for taking Atlanta today. We'll take it when any one of them come to California; it's only right.
I started speaking out against this war before Ken was killed. I questioned the plan for the peace, which we now know there is none. And after Ken was killed, I kept questioning the validity of invading a sovreign country that was no threat to the United States. And I will keep questioning why this war continues, why 2412 American soldiers have been killed in this mess, why nearly 18,000 American soldiers have been wounded, some of them grievously. We don't know how many Iraqis have been killed and there are plenty of Americans who don't even care about that statistic. Most Americans cannot name one Iraqi who has been killed; they are not human to them, they are collateral damage.
I believe that our country needs a strong military; if someone was trying to come ashore in South Carolina, I'd be down there with my pitchfork, too. But this administration is misusing and abusing our military and using them for their own personal financial and power gain. Our country will never be the same and if we regain the goodwill that we had around the world after 9/11, that day is a very long way off. This administration squandered that goodwill and replaced it with FEAR. I'm not feeling that much safer in this post 9/11 world, but that's the way this administration spins it.
So, I get pretty fired up about all this patriotism that this adminstration speaks about again and again. Then I hear a story about Senate Amendment 3594, EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR BORDER SECURITY, sponsored by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH).
Even the title sounds impressive, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery, 2006 , but there are alot of things wrong with it. In the 4th year of this war, why are we funding it with emergency supplemental appropriations? Back in early 2002 when Rumsfeld said
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.
He was right in a way, because the war hadn't begun at that point and there were many unknowns. But do the math, people, how many soldiers times how many meals, times how much ammunition, times how many death gratuity payments times how much for transportation. Add in a few other factors, like the cost to recover from this or that injury and you've got a pretty good estimate for how much this war should be costing. To still be funding this 4 year war with an emergency supplemental appropriation is insulting, deceptive and outrageous.
The Gregg Amendment calls for $2,000,000: Provided, that the entire amount is solely for a contract with an independent non-Federal entity to conduct a needs assessment for comprehensive border security: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these self proclaimed patriotic, troop supporting legislators are sheep in wolves clothing, aw heck, they are just wolves; they don't care about the soldiers and I wish they would stop pretending they do. They are not a War Congress; 14 billion dollars of pork in this supplemental budget proves that. The Gregg amendment would pay for the (border security) program by an across-the-board 3% cut in funds in the bill to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including cuts in military personnel, operations and maintenance, Iraqi security forces training, programs to combat Improvised Explosive Devices, the Defense Health Program and the Death Gratuity Fund. With a 59-39 vote, the Gregg Amendment was passed. It was mostly by party lines, so I'll let you decide who supports the troops and who doesn't. I'll name names here; you should know Feinstein, Feingold, McCain, Dole, Santorum do not support the troops.
Take a minute and call or write to your Senator, ask them "Who supports the troops?" We deserve the truth.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
The numbers below tell only one story, very black and white and very sad. This so called War on Terror in Iraq is not going well and it's time to bring the troops home.
Thanks to the good people at Think Progress for posting this snapshot of
and here's another pretty picture from Halliburton Watch. These numbers speak for themselves. I can add nothing more. Read them and weep.
Monday, May 01, 2006
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.