A sad litany of lost youth

A 26-year-old Army sergeant from Bellevue, Neb., with the all-American name of Lonnie Allen, was killed in Iraq on the same day as Nicholas Cournoyer, a private first class from Gilmanton, N.H. Cournoyer will lie in Granite State soil not far from a more famous Franco-American, Gilmanton’s Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place. Fall River’s Michael Bouthot further recalls the French-Canadians who populated New England’s mill towns.

These are some of the names that are released daily by the Department of Defense. At least one national newspaper starkly prints the name, age, military unit, and hometown of each fallen soldier, sailor, or airman.

Yet a recitation of the names is more than a sad litany of lost youth. The bare facts tell us much about America’s demographics in the early 21st Century.

Closer to the family of World War II’s Private Ryan was Gregory Wagner, late of Mitchell, S.D., home of that symbol of prairie agriculture, the Corn Palace. Killed just as he reached his majority, National Guard engineer Michael Hermanson, of Fargo, N.D., was a descendant of Scandinavian immigrants who had farmed the Northern Plains. Gary Rovinski, a 44-year-old Navy petty officer, reminds us of the large migration of Poles to Chicago. New York’s melting pot has sent and lost soldiers of a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Marine Second Lt. Michael Licalzi and Marine Corp. Steve Vahaviolos.

We do not need to follow the immigration debate to realize how the United States has become much more Hispanic. Jose Marindominguez, a 22-year-old Marine, was from Liberal, Kans., while Lance Corp. David Gramessanchez, also 22, was from Fort Wayne, Ind. Army Reservists Teodoro Torres and Carlos Saenz hailed from Las Vegas, while Edinburg, Texas, was home to Benito Ramirez, a 21-year-old Marine lance corporal.

African-American servicemen bear a disproportionate burden of defending America, yet because they usually carry Anglo surnames (like Bobby West, of Beebe, Ark.), they are harder to identify _ unless you assume that many of the dead from small towns in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi are black, plus those from Detroit, Newark, and Philadelphia.

Twenty-year-old Marine Pfc. Veashna Muy was presumably an American of East Indian parentage, while Hatak Yuka Keyu Yearby, a young Marine from Overbrook, Okla., was a Native American _ a Cherokee? a Kiowa? a Choctaw? Hawaii’s Steve Sakoda was Japanese-American, but what ethnic observations can one make about a young sergeant from suburban Denver with the name Dimitri Muscat?

As the number of Americans killed in Iraq has passed 2,500 it may be easier to make generalizations about young America. But it also becomes harder and harder to distinguish the youthful faces. They have become a blur of high-school sweethearts, boys and girls next door, Seans and Jasons, Tanyas and Jennifers. The loss of one of them from Phoenix or another from Culloden, W.Va., adds to a horrendous collective loss.

Yet while we may be a union of 50 states, Americans tend to identify with their home states, even more so given the deployment of so many National Guardsmen.

I am haunted by a single name, that of a 21-year-old specialist in the famed 10th Mountain Division: Joshua U. Humble.

Humble was from Appleton, Maine, a speck of a farming community beyond the Camden Hills. Joshua is both a popular and a biblical name, but for what does the “U.” stand? Ulysses? Uncas? Uriah? As the 2,385th American soldier to die in Iraq, had Joshua fulfilled any of his life dreams? Did he join the Army to find adventure, to serve his country, or just to get away from a too quiet rural life? Like a lot of Mainers, Joshua Humble loved to hunt and fish, but beyond that we know too little about him.

Specialist Humble’s body was brought back to Maine to be buried in a hillside cemetery, and his mother was given a folded flag as thanks from a grateful nation. Now that he is home, we must not forget him. Joshua Humble stands for all the fallen, regardless of where they were from.

(William Morgan is an architectural historian based in Providence, R.I.)