Thirty Marines and a Sailor dead

The words came crashing through the speakers in my car this morning.  'What the hell...Oh no...Oh my God' were about all the words I could muster after hearing this report.  The framework for measuring this loss began to take shape in my mind.  This is about three fourths of a full rifle platoon...an entire Marine unit went down here.  Who were they, where were they from?  What were they talking about when the full realization struck them that this was their last flight...anywhere?  How did those left behind respond when the news was radioed back to their base camp?  The numbness of their loss is multiplied by the fact that there may have been no hostiles involved in this one.  No one's ass to kick for it.  They say maybe it was weather or a mechanical.  Too soon to tell for certain.  Search and rescue types are swarming all over the crash site gathering clues and fragments and the remains of their friends and fellow warriors.  Heart breaking work for sure.

It's another example of the burdens these young warriors bear for both us and the Iraqis in their quest for freedom and the right to self determination in the election process.  Maybe in some morbid way it would have been more palatable had these losses occurred as a result of a hostile engagement.  But now in addition to the normal fears associated with entry into combat, they will all think deeply about the next hop they take in a chopper.  More stress, more fears, more things to think about.

A loss like this temporarily paralyzes a unit because of its enormity and shock.  Those at the base camp will see the empty racks and personal effects left behind.  There will be fewer of them in the chow lines.  Mail from home will trickle in until their next of kin are notified and stop writing and sending stuff over.  Someone will be assigned to start policing and processing their personal property which will be sent to their closest relatives.

Thirty one flag draped coffins will gingerly and respectfully be loaded on transport planes bound for the States with their precious, priceless and peerless cargo...deceased Marines who gave it all.

This event will ripple down through the system and finally end with some lonely graveside eulogy in a place that is probably cold and windswept this time of year.  A young misty eyed wife, sister, brother, mother or dad will alternate between pride that he served and rage over the unfairness of such an abrupt departure from a life that was so promising.  A folded flag will be presented and tearfully accepted.  Somewhere aboard a Marine base, a Chaplain will say prayers over a formation of empty boots and helmets affixed to inverted rifles stuck in the ground by their bayonets.  Buddies will stand at attention full of the bittersweet memories of those men these symbols represent.  Some will cry, some will pray, while others will remember how close they were to being on that hop.

Unlike those of us back home who have the luxury of  dealing with this tragedy in a secure place, the Marines over there will have to tuck it away somewhere deep inside knowing that soon they will board the choppers again and hoping that their flight does not produce headlines that scream.

'Thirty Marines and a sailor dead'.

Semper Fidelis, Brothers.  God bless you all and give strength to your loved ones left behind.

Dave St. John is a Captain in the USMCR, a Vietnam Veteran who served in Chu Lai , RVN , 1966—'67

The words came crashing through the speakers in my car this morning.  'What the hell...Oh no...Oh my God' were about all the words I could muster after hearing this report.  The framework for measuring this loss began to take shape in my mind.  This is about three fourths of a full rifle platoon...an entire Marine unit went down here.  Who were they, where were they from?  What were they talking about when the full realization struck them that this was their last flight...anywhere?  How did those left behind respond when the news was radioed back to their base camp?  The numbness of their loss is multiplied by the fact that there may have been no hostiles involved in this one.  No one's ass to kick for it.  They say maybe it was weather or a mechanical.  Too soon to tell for certain.  Search and rescue types are swarming all over the crash site gathering clues and fragments and the remains of their friends and fellow warriors.  Heart breaking work for sure.

It's another example of the burdens these young warriors bear for both us and the Iraqis in their quest for freedom and the right to self determination in the election process.  Maybe in some morbid way it would have been more palatable had these losses occurred as a result of a hostile engagement.  But now in addition to the normal fears associated with entry into combat, they will all think deeply about the next hop they take in a chopper.  More stress, more fears, more things to think about.

A loss like this temporarily paralyzes a unit because of its enormity and shock.  Those at the base camp will see the empty racks and personal effects left behind.  There will be fewer of them in the chow lines.  Mail from home will trickle in until their next of kin are notified and stop writing and sending stuff over.  Someone will be assigned to start policing and processing their personal property which will be sent to their closest relatives.

Thirty one flag draped coffins will gingerly and respectfully be loaded on transport planes bound for the States with their precious, priceless and peerless cargo...deceased Marines who gave it all.

This event will ripple down through the system and finally end with some lonely graveside eulogy in a place that is probably cold and windswept this time of year.  A young misty eyed wife, sister, brother, mother or dad will alternate between pride that he served and rage over the unfairness of such an abrupt departure from a life that was so promising.  A folded flag will be presented and tearfully accepted.  Somewhere aboard a Marine base, a Chaplain will say prayers over a formation of empty boots and helmets affixed to inverted rifles stuck in the ground by their bayonets.  Buddies will stand at attention full of the bittersweet memories of those men these symbols represent.  Some will cry, some will pray, while others will remember how close they were to being on that hop.

Unlike those of us back home who have the luxury of  dealing with this tragedy in a secure place, the Marines over there will have to tuck it away somewhere deep inside knowing that soon they will board the choppers again and hoping that their flight does not produce headlines that scream.

'Thirty Marines and a sailor dead'.

Semper Fidelis, Brothers.  God bless you all and give strength to your loved ones left behind.

Dave St. John is a Captain in the USMCR, a Vietnam Veteran who served in Chu Lai , RVN , 1966—'67