What does it all mean?

On Monday, I went to a neighborhood in Danville to wait with hundreds of others for the return of a mother, father and three brothers. The family had flown into San Francisco International Airport in Delaware, where they had gone to retrieve the remains of their 19-year-old son. Joshua Corral, a Marine Lance Corporal, was killed Friday in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Young woman were crying, and young men, friends of Corral, a San Ramon Valley High graduate, stood stoically. Some held U.S. flags, others held home-made signs declaring Corral a hero. Joining them were military veterans, city officials, Danville area parents who knew the Corral family through youth sports leagues, and members of Warrirors Watch RIders, a loose coaltion of guys who happen to ride motorcycles and who turn out at events to show support for troops, returning home alive or dead.

I felt myself getting choked up talking to people who knew Corral, generaly known by his nickname “Chachi.” I found myself struggling to maintain my composure when Mike Dorrance, a family friend and the father of one of Joshua’fellow San Ramon Valley High grads and fellow Marines said. “He wanted to make a difference. He wanted his life to matter.”

Brock Marcotte, Corral’s best friend and a fellow Marine, also said Corral, a machine gunner, believed that his going to fight in Afghanistan would make us safe back here in America. His service would mean that younger kids coming up in town wouldn’t wind up having to make the same sacrifice.

Hearing about Corral’s patriotism for his country and his idealism for himself made me sad–not because they are ignoble ideals. I found myself falling into something of an existential funk. And, I just couldn’t help but think, “Afghanistan, graveyard of empires.”

Then I came across the words “‘the cruel imbecility of war,” by columnist Peter Preston in the UK Guardian. In his column for Britain’s Remembrance Day, Preston cites a World War I diary by Arthur Behrends who had survived the deadly and disastrous Gallipoli campaign during World War I: Says Preston: “It just tells us, day after day, what the great war was like: mud, failure, courage, blood by the river full. It echoes, more poignantly than I’d have thought possible, what our returning heroes say about the hell of Helmand. Not that this was some crazy mission dreamed up by zealots and superintended by four-star generals with more medals than sense: just that it was a job that had to be done.”

Marcotte said his friend was an incredibly hard worker, a Marine among Marines, the best and the brightest. No doubt, Corral was getting done the job he was assigned–helping locals, sweeping for hidden roadside bombs, rooting out insurgents. It’s likely that he saved a life or two or more while he was in Afghanistan.

He wanted his life to matter. Despite the questions some of us have about the value of this particular war at this particular time, it’s impossible to question the earnestness and dedication of this young man. He had his dreams and his ideals. He pursued them. Now, he’s gone, and his loss has left a great big hole in the hearts of so many people. From the poem “Funeral Blues” by WH Auden:

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;For nothing now can ever come to any good.

4 thoughts on “What does it all mean?

  1. Today my daughters school which he attended walked down the street to hold flags as the family drove in with the soldier. It was so sad as my son is 19 years old now and my father was 19 when killed in Vietnam. My heart go's out to that family; they gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Its with a sad and honored heart that I quote “Freedom, is not free”. God bless the families that give so much for our freedom. My prayers are with them.


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