Pols ignoring costs of war
By: Mike Barnicle
January 3, 2012 05:12 AM EST
Council Bluffs, Iowa – On a day when so many in Iowa will assemble|
to start the process of picking a president, Mary Ellen Ward will drive
a short distance to St Joseph’s cemetery to say a prayer for the soul
of her son. Sgt. Thomas Houser died exactly seven years ago, Jan. 3, 2005,
while serving with the Marines in the violent city of Fallujah, Iraq.
He is one of 70 from Iowa killed in Iraq or Afghanistan fighting two wars
that have had so few serving for so long as America plods into the second
decade of a new century, exhausted and isolated from battles that crush
the families of the fallen at home.
“I was just looking at a picture of Tommy and his older brother Joe,” Mary Ellen
Ward was saying the other day. “It was taken on Oct. 31, 1987.
“He would have been about five years old. His brother was seven.
A Halloween picture. Joe was dressed as a Ninja. Tom was in camouflage.
He always wanted to be a Marine.
“The last time I talked to him was Christmas Day, a few days before
he was killed. He was going to play flag football in the sand. He was on his second tour.”
“How old was he,” his mother was asked.
“Twenty-two,” she answered. “He was only 22.”
“It’s funny,” she was saying, “but the last time he was home, just before
he left for his second tour of Iraq, we went shopping, just the two of us.
And I had this feeling, this strange feeling, that I’m never going to see him again.
I knew…I just knew.”
Across Iowa, the candidates appear in cities and towns like fast-moving clouds
pushed across the flat landscape on a wind of ambition. Here is a Gingrich,
then a Romney,
a Santorum, a Paul, a Bachmann or Perry smiling, glad-handing, promoting,
promising, pleading to be sent forward to New Hampshire and beyond by the
handful of Iowans who will show up at caucuses Tuesday night.
“I don’t have much interest in it, politics,” said Mary Ellen Ward, who works for
the state Child Support Recovery Unit. “And I kind of hate to say this but I think
we ought to get everybody out of there, out of Congress. Why does it cost so
much to run? I don’t understand that. Why do they get free health care, better
health care than the rest of us do, for nothing? They get a nice pension too.
They shouldn’t be serving more than two terms either. And none of them talk
about the wars. It’s like it’s not there to them.”
country’s history. Council Bluffs sits at the edge of the great Missouri River,
separated from Omaha, Neb., by waters that divide two states and dominate
the landscape. It was once a huge railroad center when America moved mostly
by train, before the automobile, the interstates, long after Lewis and Clark came
through on the way to the Pacific.
The town, like most, has a narrative to it, a story that is both parochial and universal:
It was built by pioneers who suffered and prospered yet greeted each sunrise with a
sense of optimism.
Now, in a country confronted with and confused by political people, including an
incumbent, all submitting a job application for the position of president of the
United States, anxiety about the immediate future fills the air. The economy has
flat-lined for three years. Washington is totally isolated from the rhythms,
the mood, the fears and apprehension felt by most Americans. And the wars
drag on, touching only the few who serve and their families who remain here,
praying nobody knocks on the door at night to tell them a sniper, an IED, an
ambush or a fire-fight has claimed a son, husband, daughter or dad.
So on Jan. 3, 2012, as candidates organize and hope for a finish that will fuel a
continued campaign, Mary Ellen Ward will again - and daily - think of her son
Tommy: Sgt. Thomas E. Houser, USMC, 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company,
First Marine Division, killed on this day in 2005 in Iraq.
And she will barely notice the passing parade of politics because she has other
concerns, another worry, one more mother’s burden: Her oldest boy, Joe,
is scheduled to depart with the Marines in two months. For Afghanistan.
For another tour in a war that has made much of our nation weary and
too many of our politicians silent.
Mike Barnicle is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist and regular on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”.
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