This weekend marks the first anniversary of my nephew’s death in Iraq.
August 6, 2005 is the date Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Comley was killed instantly by a vehicle-borne IED. My brother, Chase’s father, received the news just after midnight, early on the 7th. “We regret to inform you.” These are the words that shifted the earth’s plates.
“Chase was killed in Iraq.” This seismic sentence traveled the telephone lines, shifting the earth’s plates for all of us.
Even now, to think or say this, a year later, is unreal. It’s as if our minds still can’t grasp that Chase is dead. Something essential to understanding language is missing. Something necessary to understanding right and wrong is askew. Chase was 21-years-old. There is nothing right about this, nothing noble, nothing we can look to in Iraq and proudly say, “Chase died for this.”
Chase was killed in Iraq. There is no accepting it. Ever.
My 86-year-old father had bargained with God to take him, not Chase. He didn’t tell my mother this, nor did he say a word to me. Nor did I tell them that I had a terrible feeling. Nor did my mother say that she, too, expected the worst. Nor did my brother, Chase’s father, let on for a second that when he said goodbye to Chase, he knew that he would never see his son alive again. This was revealed after the shifting of the plates.
My mother still agonizes that maybe we didn’t try hard enough to talk him out of enlisting. But we did try. I tell her this over and over. I remind her that Chase couldn’t be dissuaded-that when I suggested the Coast Guard, he thought that would be settling for much less than first. The U.S. Marine Corps would make him a man. My mother says it made him a dead man.
My brother Mark called yesterday. His voice was oozing grief. I think of him a year ago when he received a call from his fiancée to come home. She mercifully told him she had a particularly bad migraine and needed him immediately. The Marines had come but wouldn’t tell her anything. They hovered in the neighborhood, waiting for my brother to arrive. Mark loaded his equipment and began the drive back to their house. I imagine him as he pulled in front of their place. I see him as he got out of his car, walking in, and hearing her tell him to “sit down.” I think of the ringing of the doorbell. I picture the look on my brother’s face, his demeanor. It was in the middle of the night-a time for only bearers of words that are too horrible to hear.
And I picture Chase. For the longest time, I could see only a gauze-wrapped head inside a flag-draped coffin. No, I didn’t actually view this, but I knew that he came home this way and I could not block this image from entering my mind. It was months before I could think of him without seeing gauze. And after that, it was months before I could walk the streets and not imagine I saw him on every corner.
I think of Cindy Sheehan’s falling to the floor, screaming for her son Casey. I think of Carlos Arredondo, father of Alexander, who, upon hearing of his son’s death, set fire to the military vehicle he thought was bringing Alexander home safely, just in time for Carlos’ birthday. I think of my brother. I think of my parents and hearing my father cry. I think of my mother who can’t cry but whose tears remain inside her heart. And I think of all the parents whose children are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing that many more will hear the ringing of the bell if we do not demand an end to the catastrophe we’ve created for our soldiers, their families, and for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan makes me want to collapse in anguish. I feel powerless. And stupid. Because I thought my words could make a difference. People tell me to speak truth to power. I can speak truth, but I have no power. The powerful don’t give a damn, while those who understand and feel the truth are powerless as the war wages on.
Occasionally, I receive e-mails from people who praise the president, telling me we haven’t had an attack on our shores since 9/11. I respond that we haven’t caught the person responsible for the events of that day. I remind them that the president made a link between that tragedy and Iraq and, then, whipped up patriotic fervor to convince Americans to support the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And, then, I go on to list the many attacks we have endured here at home-on our constitution, on the people of New Orleans, the impoverished, the environment, our liberties, and that assault we see daily on our intelligence as the lies continue to flow from the mouths of the neocons who are running and ruining our democracy.
And there is the heart-shattering assault that occurs, that shifting of the earth’s plates, when the military messengers ring the doorbell.
Now, we’re hearing the generals admit that Iraq may be “descending” into civil war. Months ago, it was “on the brink.” This war based on lies was a civil war as soon as we invaded. And like all wars, it has brought tsunamis of pain and suffering, altering the hopes and dreams of families whose loved ones have been killed or injured. Coalition families and Iraqi families.
On Thursday, Donald Rumsfeld testified that he never painted a rosy picture in Iraq. His memory is deficient. Just before the invasion, he said: “Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” He also said in July of 2003, “I don’t do quagmires.”
And from Dick Cheney: “Weeks rather than months.”
From Richard Perle: “I can’t tell you how many days or weeks. But by historical standards, this will be a short war.”
Almost 2,600 United States soldiers have died in this war that was supposed to be a “cakewalk,” 2,378 after George Bush said, “Bring em on,” a challenge he regrets. Disastrously, he regrets only the language he used. Over 2,800 Coalition troops have been killed, 103 since the death of al-Zarqawi.
What will heal the pain that enveloped my family a year ago? Nothing. Not time. Not justice. Not even the heads of the neocons on a platter.
Rest in peace, Chase Comley. We can’t.
Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She’s written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she’s a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,’05, she has been writing political articles. She can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com