Post-war casualties

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(Host) Recently commentator Bill Seamans witnessed a sad homecoming that left him pondering a great many troubling questions.

(Seamans) In several previous commentaries I’ve said when trying to penetrate the pervading national sense of denial that terrorism is walking right down Main Street.

Well, the other day denial turned to heartbeaking reality. I went down to Main Street in Brattleboro to stand with several hundred other people as Pvt. Kyle C. Gilbert came home, the fourth Vermonter to fall in Iraq.

His cortege was led on the way to the funeral home by a veterans’ color guard. Then came the hearse bearing the flag covered coffin – with many friends walking behind.

Looking on was an eclectic crowd – the corn-rowed and pierced, the necktied businessmen, shopkeepers, soccer moms with their broods, the young, the retired, the veterans. It was Main Street, Brattleboro.

I asked several why they were there – were they friends of Gilbert? No, we felt we just had to come…

A few days later Pvt. Gilbert was laid to rest with full military honors. He was 21 years old.

As this scene visits other Main Streets across the country, for President Bush the answer to the question why? is becoming increasingly difficult. How much longer can we the people carry on, as Bush has suggested, with a normal life. It was not a normal day for the people of Brattleboro who lined Maine Street because they felt they just had to come to honor Pvt. Gilbert.

Meanwhile, the American death toll continues climbing with almost daily ambushes. There is a growing debate over whether we should send more troops to Iraq, how many, and for how long – and whether we should enlarge the army to meet Bush’s global military commitments.

The credibility of the reasons Bush gave for launching the Iraq war has been under so much pressure lately that we again hear his critics calling it the Petroleum War.

There is a growing feeling that actions of the Bush administration have gone beyond normal governmental checks and balances and that we the people have nothing to say about it. And if we complain, we are called unpatriotic. Tell that to the people who stood along Main Street in Brattleboro the other day.

And there’s more. President Bush’s viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, had another message for us taxpayers – Bremer said that over the next four years to rebuild Iraq it would take what he called staggering sums including $16 billion to fix the water system and $13 billion to fix the electric power system.

Now thinking about our own problems with water supply and, yes, the electrical grid system that left us in the dark, I asked myself whether it would be too selfish to ask Bush to Fix America First!

If we don’t Fix America First, then how, Mr. President, can we fix other countries?

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and Bureau Chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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