Sunday, November 28, 2004
I never met Lance Cpl. Justin Ellsworth. I never attended any of his football games at Summit High School. I do not know his mom, Tracy Ross, who lives over Hoosier Pass in Fairplay.
I never had the pleasure of knowing Justin's dad, John Ellsworth, who lives in Wixum, Mich.
But I know Lance Cpl. Justin Ellsworth was an American hero.
Justin died in Iraq on Saturday, Nov. 13. He died because he wanted to be a United States Marine. He died because he wanted to serve in Iraq.
That is something most people do not understand. It does not have anything to do with politics or how you feel about war or whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
What most people do not understand is the call to duty that nearly all of the women and men in our military feel every day. Soldiers want to go to battle. Soldiers want to risk their lives. Soldiers seek being in the fray and taking chances.
I am not saying they want to die. What I am saying is they want to serve. They train every day to confront the enemy.
They are taught to move toward the action and not away from it. They are like the firefighters and police officers who ran into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. They were not trained to stand outside the building and watch it burn with people inside.
Our soldiers are the same. They are trained to advance and not to retreat even if they are sitting in a barracks in Japan or Germany waiting for the call to Iraq.
Imagine being in downtown Cleveland during rush hour. Instead it is downtown Baghdad. The traffic is the same. The road rage is the same. The police trying to control things is the same.
But one minute there is a Suburban in the next lane and the next minute it incinerates and you and half of the street are gone.
That is the kind of war Justin was fighting.
When I was in high school back in Iowa in the 1950s, I worked in a machine shop. My boss was a World War II veteran and his brother had served in Korea.
Not one day went by without one or both becoming engaged in a conversation about their service in the war. Yes, war stories, but these were stories about real wars.
I could feel the pride and respect these men felt as they recounted their experiences. I heard the stories so often I could retell them today if asked.
In my hometown, there was a brick wall of a building where all the local veterans of World War II were listed. I remember standing on the sidewalk to find my dad's name along with the names of a couple of uncles. I probably first saw the names just a couple of years after the war was over.
Being killed in Iraq does not make someone a hero. Being willing to go to Iraq and risk death is heroic.
In the past few months, I have said in public that I would go to Iraq tomorrow and replace some young woman or man so he or she could come back home and be safe. My critics have pointed out that if I did that I would deprive a soldier of serving our country in Iraq.
My point is that youth is wasted on the young. War is also wasted on the young.
We should conscript every able bodied person over the age of fifty to fight wars and leave the young men home to start a career and have a family. I know that it will never happen but it is a nice thought.
We should all take a moment to remember Justin this week. We need to take a moment to remember all of the Justins in our military who go to work every day not knowing if they will ever come home again.
Lance Cpl. Justin Ellsworth was an American hero.