Year in Review, Part 1: War

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(Host) As 2004 comes to a close, we tend to contemplate the events that shaped the previous 12 months and evaluate what they meant to us.

For the entire year, Vermont, like the rest of the nation, has been touched by war. We learned new names: Ayad Allawi and al-Zarqawi… and new places: Fallujah and Abu Ghraib.

The war dominated the news and had a significant effect on Vermont, and it’s the subject that opens our weeklong year in review.

VPR’s Steve Delaney has our report.

Tennn-Hut! Attention to orders .”

(Delaney) On successive days in the beginning of December, VPR’s Steve Zind attended the Alpha and Omega of war-related ceremonies.

(Zind) “I think going to a deployment one day and a funeral the next really drives home the fact that no matter how far away a war is taking place, it’s very close to home. The other thing that really struck me was that at the deployment, the soldiers were old. And at the funeral, the people attending were young. It all seemed backwards.”

(Delaney) The first of those days was the deployment ceremony for 130 tank soldiers from the Vermont Army National Guard.

(Zind) “Tammy Underwood stood next to her husband, Staff Sergeant Peter Underwood. The couple is expecting a baby this spring.”

(Tammy Underwood) “I’m really hoping they send him home in May on some leave so he can be there. It will kind of break things up for him and it will certainly make it easier for me.”

(Zind) “Peter Underwood says the deployment is a life-changing experience and a difficult one to prepare for.”

(Peter Underwood) “Some days are better than others. It’s a hard thing to know that you’re going to be gone from your family for that long a period of time, but that’s why we put the uniform on. To make our country safe.”

(Delaney) The next day Steve Zind was in Hartford, where fallen Marine Jeffrey Holmes was being buried.

(Zind) “Holmes was killed Thanksgiving Day while serving with the United States Marines Corps in Fallujah, Iraq.”

(Service) “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow all of the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.”

(Marines) “Render honors!”

(Zind) “Holmes was buried at the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Randolph Center. A line of Marines standing off to the side in white gloves and immaculate dark blue uniforms paid tribute.”

(Delaney) In May came the worst moment of the year for Vermonters, when two National Guardsmen were killed in a mortar attack south of Baghdad that injured six other Vermonters, three of them seriously.

Back in Vermont, Adjutant General Martha Rainville made the announcement:

(Rainville) “This is basically an ambush — there was no way that they could predict this was going to happen. But they were in that spot where the mortars hit.”

(Delaney) The dead were Sergeant Kevin Sheehan of Milton and Specialist Alan Bean of Bridport. It took a week or so for Alan Bean’s parents to get his body back from Iraq, and while they were waiting, they allowed VPR’s Nina Keck to visit in their home.

(Keck) “It’s never easy to ask parents what it’s like to lose a child. It’s one of the hardest jobs a reporter has. That’s why I felt so grateful to Alan Bean’s parents, for not only welcoming me into their living room, but for telling me about their son, and for helping to get a more accurate picture of just who this young man was, and why his loss was so devastating.”

(Bean family) “I want people to know him for who he was. Not just a face and a name on the TV screen or in the paper. I want people to remember who he was. You can remember Alan as being bigger than life. He was just there. People that met him once remembered him because his personality was so big. He touched so many people.”

(Delaney) On the day news of the deadly ambush came out, General Rainville talked about the badly wounded survivors as well; Sergeant Gary Jackson, Sergeant Matthew Bedia and Specialist Thomas Brooke.

(Rainville) “They’ve all spoken with their families and while there may be a longer path to recovery and some challenging times ahead for them, we are anticipating them doing very well and recovered from their wounds.”

(Delaney) Gary Jackson was at risk of losing his leg for months, but at year’s end he was walking…with crutches and with difficulty, but walking. Lisa Jackson says that’s a long way up from his low point last summer:

(Lisa Jackson) “Gary was very frustrated and very discouraged and very, ‘Oh woe is me,’ and ‘How could this have happened?’ and ‘I hate being in this bed,’ and ‘I hate this leg.’ And I stood up and said, ‘You’ve got a choice here, buddy. You can get busy living or you can get busy dying.’ And I walked out of that room and went and did my own thing for a little while and I came back. He was sitting on the edge of the bed putting his shoes on.” (Delaney) Gary Jackson’s doctors tell him he will eventually have almost full use of his injured leg.

Bedia recovered well enough to attend a Purple Heart award ceremony in October, and to receive the nation’s oldest military medal.

(Ceremony) “This is to certify that the President of the United States of America has awarded the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington at Newburgh New York, August 7, 1782…”

(Delaney) Bedia said he hopes that all his friends come home safely.

(Bedia) “It’s just good to be home. It’ll be a better day when the rest of the Green Mountain Boys come home. I go to bed every night and worry about them.”

(Delaney) It may take a while for that worry to go away. Since that day, another 700 Vermont Guard members have gone to the Middle East, and another Vermont Marine has died there. More Vermonters are going east early in the New Year.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Delaney. (Host) Tomorrow (on Tuesday), we continue our perspective on 2004 with a look back at the presidential campaign that was not to be.

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