Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Becomes of the Tokens to the Dead?

The war in Iraq is slowly coming to an end. In a year it’s projected that the last combat troops will leave Iraq and that a year after that, so too will go the advisory units to the GoI (Government of Iraq) and the Iraqi Army. In their wake we will leave behind the memories of 4331+ Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice. We will also leave behind thousands of plaques, portraits, and memorials in their honor.

What happens to those items?

What becomes of the sun bleached photos of Civil Affairs Soldiers who died four years ago conducting operations out of FOB Kalsu? There photos are arrayed on the wall outside our day room. Their stories are now lost to anyone on the FOB; 2005 was a long time ago and I can only guess in what context these men died. Since we are the last CA unit to occupy this compound who is the caretaker to these items? What happens to the photo memorial of one of the youngest West Point graduates (and a high profile death) when the base medical clinic closes its doors? How do you decide to throw it away? Isn’t there something sacred and reserved about each and every memorial?

I thought to take down what I could – all the portraits in our compound – and find the families of these Soldiers and send it to them. Is that right? Does a family want to receive another (painful) reminder to a terrible event that they have spent years trying to recover from? Then if not the family, does the military have an obligation to maintain or store these items?

Leaving it for the Iraqis is out of the question; I do not expect them to respect our dead in any manner. In fact I expect the opposite.

I think about the Vietnam Memorial and all of the items left there. They are cataloged, stored, and kept as if they were as hallowed as the names on the wall. I imagine we could to the same here; take it all down, give a ten digit military grid location where it was taken from, protect it, pack it and ship it home. Then what? Maybe one day we could display it on The Mall in D.C. in “our” own unique memorial.

We remember the uniformed men and women we never met and only see staring back at us in a still photo. Whatever the outcome, we remember the dead.


Darci said...

Very thoughtful post, Rich! I am not sure what you should do with them either, though if I had to make a decision... bringing them home to the families is where I would lean. I think they would feel honored knowing that their son/daughter/husband/wife was memorialized in that way and very thankful to you for bringing that piece home to them as that chapter of our Nation's history closes (or does it?).

Annemiek said...

I would say too, take them down and to the US. If the families want them, great, otherwise still save them.