The Daily 750

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Trying Times

Friday, November 11, 2005

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
-- Thomas Paine, Valley Forge, December, 1776
Michael McCusker is a journalist and radio broadcaster. He publishes and edits the political, bimonthly North Coast Times Eagle newspaper. He has run for mayor of Astoria and almost unseated the reigning monarchy. In 1966 and 1967 he was an infantry reporter/photographer for the 1st Marine division, in Vietnam. He became the director of the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Against the War and participated in the Winter Soldier Investigation, in January and February, 1971. A portion of his testimony can be heard here.

Yesterday Michael ended his weekly radio show on the local community radio station with this signoff: “Tomorrow, on Veterans Day, think of all the people in all the wars, and think of how damn unnecessary it all is.”

Michael doesn’t have a phone, else I’d call and ask: Do you mean that there is nothing worth fighting for? Or that the evils at the roots of the wars, the madness of men in their righteous convictions and their pursuits of totalitarian power over others, is unnecessary?

Today I think of all who have served and are serving, in uniform and out. I think of Michael himself. Of my uncle Frank, the youngest of my grandfather's brothers, who burned or drowned or was eaten by sharks after his ship, the USS Indiannapolis, was torpedoed by the Japanese on its return from delivering the first atomic bomb. And of the first local man to have been killed in Iraq.

I didn’t know David Anthony Mitts. I don’t know whether his wife Tara called him Dave or his buddies called him Mitty. I don't know the name of his twin brother, or whether the twin is identical or fraternal. They both graduated from a local high school in 1999, and then David enlisted in the Army, re-enlisting three years later, after being granted permission to join the Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, First Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, based at nearby Fort Lewis, Washington, so that he could be closer to Tara and his family.

The 1st is a Stryker brigade combat team. They operate out of Stryker armored vehicles, named after two unrelated men with the last name of Stryker, one killed in the Vietnam war and one killed during World War II. Strykers, according to publicity, “are lighter and more mobile, yet offer firepower no enemy can hope to match.” Also that:
They have a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour and a range of 300 miles on a tank of fuel. The vehicles are swift, easily maintainable and include features designed for the safety of soldiers. The tires can be inflated or deflated from inside the vehicle to adapt to surfaces ranging from deep mud to hardtop, and it has run-flat tires, a built-in fire-suppression system and self-recovery winch. The vehicles run quieter than the current armored personnel carriers, increasing their "stealth." They will also give the new brigades a reduced logistics footprint, and . . . should be about 25 percent cheaper to operate than today's heavy brigades.
When Mitts and his Stryker brigade were deployed to Iraq, in early October 2004, 1,062 American servicepeople had been confirmed dead. April had been particularly bloody from Operation Vigilant Resolve, the first, and unsuccessful, attempt by US forces to take Fallujah. The interim Iraqi government had taken over from Paul Bremer’s administration in late June and the Iraqis had a new flag, same as the old flag: horizontal red, white and black bars, with green Arabic text reading “God is Great” in the white bar. What made the flag “new” was the font of the text -- something one supposes could be reproduced on an Arabic computer, not the old handwritten script style, said to be Saddam’s.

Old Flag Bad

New Flag Good

David Mitts and the 1st went to Mosul, a city of two million people 200 miles north of Baghdad, and engaged in heavy fighting.

On Friday, Dec 3rd, they waged a three-hour battle against insurgents whom, the commander reported, "appeared to be from other countries or other parts of Iraq and better trained than the local fighters" the brigade usually fought. Still, Stryker troops killed 22. The brigade went out again on Saturday, and was ambushed. One report said that David "stuck his head out of the top of the Stryker to reconnoiter," and somebody outside started shooting. Mitts was killed along with another Stryker trooper, Staff Sgt. Salamo J. Tuialuuluu, 23, of Pago Pago, American Samoa. David's father said, "Apparently somebody was waiting for him."


When David was killed in December, his wife, Tara, was five months' pregnant with their first child, whom she named Landon David when he was born in February. On Friday, March 18th, when Landon was barely a month old and seemingly healthy, he died in his sleep.