Only 118 lives have been lost in the war with Iraq, thus far. We say “only” because it’s remarkable that the United States toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime with so few casualties. But when we say “only,” we must remember that for each person killed, the total numbers don’t matter. For whoever loses a loved one, the loss is 100%.
The small state of Vermont lost two of its sons the week of April 3: Erik Halvorsen from Bennington and Mark Evnin from South Burlington. Judging by our population of slightly more than 600,000, Vermont paid a disproportionately high price.
But death never has played by any rules that we can understand. The deaths of the marine and the pilot caused almost unbearable pain to their families. There is no greater loss than the loss of a child. Parents and grandparents should not have to bury their children and grandchildren. Experience tells us that it should be the other way around.
These deaths were not only sad for their loved ones; all the people in the state of Vermont felt them. We were one large family at these funerals. A turnout of 1,000 people at Ohavi Zedek synagogue in Burlington told us that their families don’t mourn alone. The hundreds of students lining the sidewalk at South Burlington High School, watching the funeral cortege in silence, poignantly reminded us that just three years ago he was one of them. Everyone, regardless of how they felt about the war with Iraq, felt the reality of war embodied in the deaths of these two young men.
Mark Evnin of South Burlington was proud to be a marine and believed strongly in the cause he was fighting for, according to those who eulogized him at the memorial service. His dream was to be a marine never knowing that fulfilling that dream would lead to his early death. Mark and Erik are true heroes: dying for their country, joining the remarkable brotherhood of enlisted men past and present. And yet, as we acknowledge their heroism and the cause for which they died, it is impossible not feel the sharp pull of regret that their mothers will never meet their daughters-in-law, will never hug their grandchildren.
Rabbi Max Wall, Mark’s grandfather, who had comforted his congregation so many times for their own losses, found the strength to comfort the bereaved at the moment of his great loss. He acknowledged the marines saying, “We need our guardians. We need them desperately.” He added, “Our highest goal as a people is to learn how to speak to one another throughout the world. “We can’t save life by killing,” the rabbi said. “We can’t build a universe of peace by building greater weapons of destruction.”
This is Madeleine May Kunin.
Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.