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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Jack doesn't want to be a daddy

Our Leader and his loyal supporters love war. It's a way to prove our manliness, albeit by proxy, in the ultimate contest. It also appeals to the part of ourselves where our destructive little boys reside--we like to see things blow up. That's why we spent hours reclined comfortably in our La-Z-Boys watching Shock and Awe live on CNN as we gobbled pretzels and gulped beer.

We also understand that there is a cost to war--a cost so high that it must only be undertaken when all else fails. Our Leader saw that a war with Iraq was unavoidable. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction--or was that weapons of mass destruction program related activities? He was responsible for 9-11. He hated freedom. Our Leader had to choose war. We warbloggers knew it was our only option.

It's cost us much and continues to cost us even more, but we have faith in Our Leader. He's not afraid to pay the price, no matter how high.

From the Seattle PI:

Sad to the depths of his 4-year-old soul, Jack Shanaberger knew what he didn't want to be when he grows up: a father.

"I don't want to be a daddy because daddies die," the child solemnly told his mother after his father, Staff Sgt. Wentz "Baron" Shanaberger, a military policeman from Fort Pierce, Fla., was killed March 23 in an ambush in Iraq.

On that terrible day, Jack and his four siblings joined the ranks of the largely overlooked American casualties who, until now, have gone uncounted. Although almost daily official announcements tally the war dead, the collateral damage to the children left behind has not been detailed.

But, from Defense Department casualty reports, obituaries and accounts in hometown newspapers, and family interviews, Scripps Howard News Service has identified nearly 900 U.S. children who have lost a parent in the war, from the start of the conflict in March 2003 through November, when a total of 1,256 troops had died.


Perhaps most heartbreaking are the more than 40 service members who died without ever seeing their children. At least 34 wives were pregnant -- four with twins -- when their husbands died, and 15 others had babies while their spouses were deployed. Although some of the latter were able to return home on paternity leave, most died before they could.

Among those who never held their babies was Army 1st Lt. Doyle Hufstedler, 25, of Abilene, Texas, who was killed in March when a roadside bomb hit his armored personnel carrier near Habbaniyah. In his uniform pocket, Hufstedler carried a sonogram picture of his unborn daughter, the only image he would ever have of Grace Ashley, who arrived six weeks after his death.

Ursula Pirtle gave birth to Katie, her husband's first-born and spitting image, 27 days after Army Spc. James Heath Pirtle, 27, of La Mesa, N.M., was killed Oct. 3, 2003, in an insurgent attack north of Baghdad.

"It's almost hard to look at her sometimes," Ursula Pirtle, who now lives in Harker Heights, Texas, wrote in a posthumous online letter to her husband. "I would give my right arm to get a chance to see you two together ... I know she would be the biggest joy you've ever known."


In Hinesville, Ga., Denise Marshall also expects a sad Christmas, a holiday for which her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Marshall, once handled the biggest decorating chores.

That is the least of the new widow's problems. Since Marshall, 50, was killed in a rocket-propelled gun attack in April 2003, his wife has struggled financially and otherwise to care for their three children, all of whom have medical disabilities. The trio is getting counseling to help with the loss, but the emotional wound remains fresh.

More than a year after his father's death, Marshall's son, Richard, 16, still has a hard time sleeping. Once, his mother said, Richard asked her, "Did Dad love his soldiers more than he loved us?"


Pfc. Stephen Downing, 30, of Burkesville, Ky., gave up his truck-driving job to join the Army to provide a better life for his children, Taylor, 9, and Stephen, 5.

"His kids were everything in the world for him," Downing's ex-wife, LeAnn Emmons, told a local newspaper.

A man with a soft spot for all children, Downing -- killed Oct. 28 by a sniper in Ramadi -- told his family he would also be fighting for the children of Iraq. "He told his kids that he wanted Iraqi kids to have the same opportunities (American) kids do," Emmons said.

It was his own bottomless love for his wife and two daughters that gave rise to the worst fear for Army Chief Warrant Officer William Brennan, an Army helicopter pilot killed in a crash Oct. 16 on a mission to protect Iraqi civilians fleeing under fire from insurgents.

"It's not the fear of death that wears me down. It is the feeling of not being there for my three girls," Brennan, 36, of Bethlehem, Conn., wrote in an Easter letter to his sister. Only 2 years old when his own father died, Brennan worried that, if he were killed, his children "would never know me."

Corey Shanaberger, widow of the Florida MP killed in March, is doing everything she can so her children will remember their father in both life and death. Baron Shanaberger left instructions that, if he died, his five kids should be permitted to see him in his coffin, believing that would help them come to terms with his passing and provide them some closure.

At the funeral home viewing, Jack and his twin sister, Grace, climbed up so they could touch and kiss him in his open casket. The children placed precious mementos in the coffin with him -- a little red truck, a stuffed puppy dog, a favorite doll, a photo.

Now, each night when the stars are out, Corey Shanaberger tells her children that one star is their daddy coming out of heaven to watch over them. They all blow a kiss to the sky.

"I always tell my children, 'You might forget what your daddy looked like, but always remember what he felt like,' " she said. "Always remember his hugs, always remember his kisses, and always remember his love."


Here are excerpts from the last letters of fallen U.S. soldiers to their children.

Marine Staff Sgt. Russell Slay,

Slay, who was killed Nov. 9 in Fallujah when his armored vehicle was attacked by insurgents, wrote the following in his last letter home to his daughter Kinlee, 9, and son Walker, 5.

"Tell Kinlee that I love her and never knew what life was before she was born. ... She'll always be Daddy's little girl ... Daddy will always be with her and watching out for her. I'll miss you. Hugs and Kisses."

To Walker, "You're the sweetest little man. Be studious, stay in school and stay away from the military. I mean it. Always be a man. If you make mistakes, stand up and say so."

Slay told his daughter to go to college, and his son to have children of his own so he could "feel the joy and happiness you brought me ...

"My family was in my last thoughts. I can't say I love you enough."

Army Pfc. Jesse Givens,

Givens was killed May 1, 2003, when his tank tumbled into the Euphrates River when a riverbank gave way. He wrote what follows to his sons, Dakota, 5, and Carson, who was born four weeks after Givens' death:

"Dakota -- You are more son than I could ever ask for. I can only hope I was half the dad. You taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile again. You taught me that life isn't so serious and sometimes you have to play. You have a big, beautiful heart. Through life you need to keep it open and follow it.

"Never be afraid to be yourself. I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play together. I hope someday you will have a son like mine. Make them smile and shine just like you. I hope someday you will understand why I didn't come home. Please, be proud of me. Please don't stop loving life. Take in every breath like it's your first. I will always be there with you. I'll be in the sun, shadows, dreams and joys of your life.

"Bean (his pet name for the unborn Carson) -- I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I will always have with me the feel of the soft nudges on your mom's belly, and the joy I felt when we found out you were on the way.

"I dream of you every night, and I always will. Don't ever think that since I wasn't around that I didn't love you. You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love. Please understand that I had to be gone so that I could take care of my family. I love you, Bean."

There's much more here.

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