“On my order,” President George W. Bush said in a televised addressed to the American public, “coalition forces have begun targeting selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war.”
I admit that some members of my family and I were not paying as much attention to the launch of Iraqi Freedom as we should have.
On the evening of March 19, 2003, when Bush gave his televised address, my 80-year-old father, William Ross, was in Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, dying of a combination of ailments mostly centering around congestive heart failure.
My father, the former superintendent of the Acalanes Union High School District, was a World War II veteran, having served as a Navy officer in the Pacific theater. After the war, he served in the Navy reserves, becoming a reserve captain. He strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq, didn’t trust the motives behind it and feared the loss of American and Iraqi lives.
On March 20, we were to take him out of the hospital and bring him home, so he could die in the Walnut Creek house he and my mother had shared since the early 1950s.
Sometime around 7 a.m. on March 20, 2003, hours after the bombings started in Iraq, my mother received her own version of the “something bad has happened” message, via a phone call from the hospital.
“Bill’s dead,” she said, walking into the living room, numb. Her husband was dead, and he wouldn’t be coming back home. He had died overnight in the hospital as bombs, half a world away, were dropping on Iraq.
A few months after my husband was fired from his job at Humboldt State University, my son, then 3, and I left Humboldt County and moved back in with my parents in Walnut Creek.
My husband and I were separated at the time, and my son and I had no place else to go. My parents and I never talked too much about what was going on with John. We tried to make out as if life was moving on. Police investigated his case, and the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office eventually fired criminal charges. After a separation of about four months, John came back to live with us, in my parents’ home. He was free on his own recognizance pending the legal outcome of his case. There were court dates, another hospitalization, psychiatric exams, and the diagnoses of serious mental illness: schizoaffective disoder, simply put a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In April 2002, my husband pleaded no contest to nine felony counts involving theft, forgery and falsification of records.
For my husband’s June 2002 sentencing, a probation officer prepared a report giving her recommendations on whether he should go to state prison or not. Many people wrote letters for and against prison state prison. I honestly don’t remember how many years he was facing-somewhere around eight. I kind of blanked out on that detail. It was too unbelievable, and I was still moving through life in a state of shock, denial, disbelief.
One of those people writing a letter on my husband’s behalf was my father. In his usual thoughtful, articulate way, he presented reasons to the judge for why it didn’t make sense to send my husband to state prison.
In his letter, my father starts by pointing out that “in my professional military and public service careers, I served in many positions that called for the evaluation and character assessment of countlesss numbers of personnel.”
He expressed shock and amazement at the allegations against John. “This was not the John we knew. As we look back over the many years in which he has been a part of our family, we see him as a trustworthy, honest, hardworking and bright young man.”
What impressed my father the most is how John was an “exemplary parent for his 4-year-old son.” My fathersaid that if John were incarcerated in state prison, the person who would suffer the most would be our son. My father pointed out how John was always reading to our son and taking him to parks, playgrounds and museums. My son, said my father, “is constantly going to his dad for information, help on projects and just plain companionship.” My father, as an educator and former high school dean of boys, said that my husband and son represented, as a team, “the best in a healthy parental relationship.”
I miss my dad. I’m also sorry to say that the Iraq war has cost more than 4400 U.S. lives and at least 150,000 Iraqi lives.