<< The Body Politic

Double sacrifice

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. — Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Mrs. Bixby, 1864

The Chicago Sun-Times has a moving article about three brothers from Arkansas, two of whom were killed while serving in Afghanistan. Jeremy, the oldest of the three Wise brothers and a former Navy SEAL, was killed by a suicide bomber at a CIA base in 2009. Ben,  the middle brother and a former Army Ranger medic, was killed earlier this year during an insurgent attack. The youngest brother, Beau, is a Marine.

The article recounts:

Once the deployments began, they seemed constant.

Beau shipped off to Afghanistan for the first time in 2009. Ben had finished a deployment earlier that year and was preparing for another with his Special Forces unit in 2010.

“One was always coming or two were there and one was home,” their mother said.

Jeremy had just retired as a Navy SEAL and was working as a defense contractor in Afghanistan. He thought he could spend more time with his family that way and still serve his country. When he was home in Virginia, he played ninjas with his stepson, Ethan, and hung around his wife, Dana, even if she was doing something as mundane as laundry.

“He loved us almost suffocatingly so,” she said.

When he was working in Afghanistan, Jeremy called home often and made the adventure sound like a vacation. He talked about the food, the hotels — not the danger.

“He wouldn’t tell me anything about it because he didn’t want me to worry,” his sister, Heather, said.

The risk became real at the end of 2009, when the Wise parents were celebrating the birth of Ben’s baby boy in Washington state. Amid the celebration, word came from overseas: A suicide bomber had killed Jeremy at a CIA base in Afghanistan.

His family met his remains in Dover, Del. It was a cold, gray day and the family waited inside a bus that felt like a funeral parlor, Heather recalled. Ben took Heather’s hand in his and they whispered memories about their brother.

Deployments were harder after that.

Ben and Beau headed back overseas not long after the funeral. The war started wearing on Ben, a medic who repaired the wounds that men inflict on each other. He worried about his younger brother serving in another part of Afghanistan.

[… In January,] an insurgent shot Ben after he and his fellow soldiers saved a number of women and children in Afghanistan. A medic unto the end, he helped tend to his own wounds before he was flown to a hospital in Germany.

Beau caught a flight and accompanied Ben’s wife to the hospital, where she saw her husband for the last time before becoming a widow. Ben fought to stay alive, even after doctors cut off his legs, even as his body failed, even as his organs started shutting down. He died on Jan. 15, shortly before his parents arrived to say goodbye.

Beau called Heather.

“We were crying and I said, ‘It’s just you and me now, bro,’” she said. “Just us two.”

Read the whole article here.