Near the end of the year the front page of my local newspaper was taken up by the stories of three deaths.

The main headline extended across the top of the page: “Saddam Hanged.” Even opponents of capital punishment like me have to admit that if you’re going to have a hanging, Saddam was a worthy candidate. Afterward, his body was hauled to his hometown in the back of a pickup truck. Most of the world won’t miss him. He was 69.

In the lower left corner of the front page was a story on the death of Gerald R. Ford, a decent man who became president and served his country patriotically from World War II until he died on Dec. 26. His state funeral was televised from Washington on Jan. 2. He was eulogized by two presidents, receiving well-deserved credit for his service. He was 93.

And the lower right corner of the front page was devoted to John Paul Barta. Unless you live down here in South Texas, you’ve probably never heard of him. But he was well known in Flour Bluff, a small coastal community near Corpus Christi. He was an all-star athlete, excelling in baseball and football. He was graduated from high school in 2000 and joined the army two years ago. He was assigned to the 1st Calvary Division and sent to Iraq in October. Two days before Christmas, he was killed by a mortar shell in Buhriz, about 30 miles north of Baghdad. He was 25.

I didn’t know John Paul Barta, but he sounds like a nice guy. His friends say that he was well mannered and respectful, competitive in sports, but a sweet-natured, thoughtful friend, somebody you could always turn to for help. His obituary says that he was “a good soldier” and that he loved being in the army. His friends say he was gentle and kind, but in his photograph he looks tough and confident in his army beret. His mother said, “All I know right now is I just have the biggest hole in my heart.”

His funeral was held at the First Baptist Church in Corpus Christi on Jan. 3, a cold, overcast day with a strong wet wind blowing across the bay. A lot of people came to see him off. Before the service a slideshow depicted his life: a cute kid playing with his two brothers, an athlete in his football uniform posing with a girlfriend, a ballplayer poised in the batter’s box, a soldier in an army uniform, a groom marrying a beautiful young bride.

A bagpiper led the family to the front of the chapel, where they sat before a coffin draped with an American flag. In the style of modern funerals, three of his friends told long, affectionate stories about John Paul Barta that drew smiles and bittersweet laughs from the audience. The last friend to speak seemed reluctant to stop talking, as though he could put off saying his final goodbye.

The ministers had a few things to say about hope, peace and eternal life, and then the service was over. The family remained composed throughout, until it was time to take the coffin away. And then the young widow began to weep with deep and inconsolable grief. It rained for the rest of the day and well into the next.

A few days before the funeral, one of John Paul Barta’s friends reported talking to him for two hours before he left for Iraq: “He said he was scared to death, but at the same time was proud to be one of the people serving his country.” We probably overuse the term “hero” these days, but it’s hard to think of a better word to describe the courage and sacrifice of men and women like John Paul Barta.

Today’s scene at the First Baptist Church has been duplicated in our country at more than 3,000 times since the beginning of a war that has required very little of most of us. Whether we support the war or not, maybe all of us should attend one of these funerals, just so we can see how much this war really costs.

(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail him at jcrisp(at)Delmar.edu.)

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Enlightened leaders treasure the greatest asset a country can have – citizens that are willing to sacrifice their lives on behalf of their countrymen.

    These citizen soldiers are part of a culture the uses concepts such as Duty, Honor, and Personal Sacrifice as touchstones. Their willingness to shed their own blood on our behalf makes it all the more precious.

    It should not be shed thoughtlessly, or out of hubris, but to protect our lives and freedom. A leader who fails to understand this sacred trust is not worthy to lead. The American Public has been slow to recognize just how deficient the current administration really is, and we all may pay a terrible price for its folly.

  2. I hesitate to guess at a percentage but there is a considerable contingent among the enlisted that have taken that route because circumstances in their lives have lead them to believe it is their best option. The “tear-jerk crap about country, service and patriotism” is instilled along with the rest of the brainwashing in basic training necessary to build a psyche that will respond to orders without question that is needed to produce an efficient soldier. Yes, Barta was a victim but he was probably trying to do the best he could. Let’s not blame him. And yes, let’s do blame the greedy chickenhawks. It is all a giant fraud perpetrated by the ultra rich to suck the rest of us dry in the name of “patriotism” and false fear of insecurity. Iraq and Iran never were a danger to the United States and never will be, even if either was to obtain nuclear weapons. Either might be a danger to Israel but that’s another story. Israel has nukes and both countries would be foolish not to fear Israel, which has already shown its potential in its ongoing slow genocide against the Palestinians which began in the 1920’s and 1930’s with terror attacks against the indigenous population by Jewish terror groups way before the formation of the state of Israel.

  3. One can’t help but be deeply moved to hear, “And then the young widow began to weep with deep and inconsolable grief.“ The sad truth is, however, that her dead husband is not a hero. He willingly submitted to the myth that the Iraq war, formed in greedy, chicken-hawk hearts, somehow justified throwing away a future with his beloved wife. John Paul Barta is a victim, pure and simple, and all the tear-jerk crap about country, service and patriotism is nothing but morphine injected into a gaping, fatal wound.

    As someone has suggested earlier, true heroism belongs to those who resist the evil that propels healthy, idealistic men and women to their deaths.You’ll notice, too, that part of Bush’s dark rationale for continuing the war is that we must “honor” the lives which have already been wasted—we are to wipe away blood with more blood. What could be more vicious, cynical and deceitful.

  4. The good intention of every soldier is what makes them heroic. The bad intentions in the heart of Bush, which brought this needless war upon us, is what makes him an anti-hero.

  5. The Harrisburg, PA, Patriot-News has just called to ask permission to publish the following letter to the editor. They do not always publish after asking permission but there is a good chance they will print it. I believe this at least tangentially speaks to the topic of the rant, “Follow the Money”.
    What you are about to read was true of the Vietnam war and it is true of the current war in Iraq. And it will be true of every war from here on out as long as we Americans continue in our stupor to allow it.

    Huge and obscene windfall profits accrue to weapons manufacturers like General Dynamics, support providers like Halliburton, and the oil companies which receive billions in tax credits even as they book record tens of billions in profits quarterly. The economy booms but it is financed with “off budget” borrowed money which must be repaid with interest by taxpayers.

    The war is popular with investors, politicians and defense industries and their employees. The costs of war are socialized and the profits are privatized. The rich get richer on government borrowed money as our soldiers bleed to death and our poor repay the costs with tax dollars.

    It is all a huge transfer of wealth from the taxpayers to the owners of the war industries. It is all a giant and violent fraud. Please think about this as our president escalates the Iraq atrocity and threatens to carry hostilities into Iran. Is this the America you really believe in? Is this really what you want for your children? Do you really want to continue to transfer your wealth to Communist China while your children continue to have their legs and arms blown off in desert sands 8000 miles from home in a country that never was and never will be a threat to our country?

  6. We know who the heroes are, but what about the villains? They are the ones who are selling these brave kids on “serving their country” and “protecting our freedom.” Gerald Ford and before him Alexander Hamilton both spoke of America as a place where “the people rule.” I know all about the republican form of government (small r is intentional, real republicanism has no relation to the oligarchy of big r Republicanism), but the people, who are the country, have seen through Bush and his war. Serving the country is not achieved by wasting your life in Iraq and there was never any threat to American freedom from Iraq, Iran, or the whole lot together. The only threat to American freedom comes from George Bush, Dick Cheney and the Neo-cons.

  7. How sad that those who have been murdered by their Commander in Chief, the great self proclaimed “war president” still think they are “serving their country”

    They are serving the greed of the oil corporations, the greed of the land grabbers, the greed of the sovereign state of Israel, the insanity of a twerp who thinks he is just like Harry Truman, or Roosevelt, or Churchill–how sad that they can latch on to the insanity and actually believe they are “serving their country’–they are serving nothing but fascism and getting murdered by their own lying, cowardly CIC, who himself has a record of avoiding combat during time of war.

    Mothers, who are in the know, you need to grow up your babies and inform them that the imperialistic greed of American, especially under the powers of those zionists who see their own sovereign state;s interestsz in the ME, should be the same as Americqan interests.

    Please mothers, teach your children–it is wrong to lie, to fabricate, to spin a despicable war on another nation that was NO threat at all to the US–therefore, your sons and daughters will not be dying to “protect the US” at all

    as this horrendous Bush created debacle in Iraq has proved.

  8. Lex and Susan, good words. I can feel the heroes in America. I’ve had close family members in all the wars. My father (WW1)….My husband (WW2)….My cousins (Korea) my son (Vietnam) all who served as honorable men. I have a grandson 25, unmarried and if this Administration or the next brings back the draft, I will personally remove my boy from American soil. Enough is enough!

    I spend time each day recognizing not just the Arizona heroes who will not be coming home but all young men who trusted the government and followed what they thought was a strong Republic.

    When will this madness end? When will we stop trying to negotiate with nations who hate us? When will we learn how to make friends with other nations? When will we learn to negotiate and not manipulate? When will we ever be able to hold our heads up again and feel pride instead of disgust?

    Somebody wrote a post on Reader Rant who admitted he felt depressed and worried and could not figure it out. I too feel a tad out of sorts this morning. I also have the hiccups that makes swallowing my coffee difficult and both cats are staring at me as if I might explode.

    I dislike being unable to trust my government! Damn!

  9. Lex and Susan, good words. I can feel the heroes in America. I’ve had close family members in all the wars. My father (WW1)….My husband (WW2)….My cousins (Korea) my son (Vietnam) all who served as honorable men. I have a grandson 25, unmarried and if this Administration or the next brings back the draft, I will personally remove my boy from American soil. Enough is enough!

    I spent time each day recognizing not just the Arizona heroes who will not be coming home but all young men who trusted the government and followed what they thought was a strong Republic.

    When will this madness end? When will we stop trying to negotiate with nations who hate us? When will we learn how to make friends with other nations? When will we learn to negotiate and not manipulate? When will we ever be able to hold our heads up again and feel pride instead of disgust?

    Somebody wrote a post on Reader Rant who admitted he felt depressed and worried and could not figure it out. I too feel a tad out of sorts this morning. I also have the hiccups that makes swallowing my coffee difficult and both cats are staring at me as if I might explode.

    I dislike being unable to trust my government! Damn!

  10. You have written a fine tribute to Spec. Bartha, and an eloquent protest against this escalating madness into which we were drawn by the lies and demagoguery of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz oligarchs. I fear we are about to be sucked in further as the militants, the corporate swindlers and a delusional president take their last desperate shot at some measure of vindication. Who will stop them from continuing to use our children as cheap consumables in their sick game of world domination? Will the 110th Congress be less enabling than the feckless 109th? I doubt it.

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