Our Sacrifice

Sherwood would be 34, still a big brother, a father proud of his ever growing teenage son. He'd be holding it down somehow -- working like a dog, passionate about his family and the people he served. He'd know my son. They'd share on equal measure the endless newness and wonder of life.

Sherwood would be his father's hope as he fights cancer. He would be his mother's calm and his brothers' pride.

Sherwood would be here, present amongst the living, were it not for the war in Iraq.

Four years ago, in the emerging desert summer, an explosion rocked a suspected chemical munitions factory in Baghdad. A Pennsylvania Army National Guardsman patrolling the perimeter was fatally wounded when he was struck in the head with debris. His name was Sherwood Baker, age 30, recently promoted to Sergeant. He had a wife and a child.

My brother is dead. I must repeat that to myself with a quiet firmness. For many, Memorial Day represents the promise of burgeoning possibilities, a chance for a BBQ, afternoon beers and family gatherings. We, however, are consumed with flags, tears and the names of our dead.

For my family, Memorial Day bookends a season of anniversaries. For the fourth time now, we have repeated this litany. The last time I saw Sherwood was in February. The last time we talked was in March. His last e-mail came days before his death in April. His funeral was in May. And now we have this weekend to remember him amongst all of the fallen.

We remember Sherwood as we work amidst an inspired group of unlikely activists -- Gold Star and Military Families who want an end to the war in Iraq. We are regular folks, your every day nobodies, whose grief and vigilance is aimed at preventing further tragedy. We have banged on the doors in Washington, we have marched in the streets of America. We have relentlessly called for an immediate end to this hideous debacle.

Despite our efforts, and the efforts of millions of other dedicated citizens, the war has raged for more than 5 years. Memorial Day offers us pause, even as men and women, Americans and Iraqis, suffer death and injury.

In this moment as the eye passes over us, I find, perhaps, a single enlightening parallel. Our heroes who laid down their lives made courageous and selfless decisions to serve their country. They remind us that moral courage is nothing we can compensate. Rewards, we pray, are theirs heaven, for on God's earth they have lost everything they cherished.

We sift through the campaign season hoping against hope that the political process as we know it will end the war. We are wrong. No political strategy will end the morass, the corruption, the burning blanket on humanity that is Iraq. Only moral courage will end the war.

We who choose to stand on those grounds will not profit. The politicians who join us may not become Committee Chairs, they may not be re-elected, they may not have buildings named after them. They will simply do what is right.

As we plead our case, we will only be told intellectual lies about the need to continue funding the degradation and destruction of a sovereign society. We will only be asked to believe that our best interests are being served as death knocks on the doors of Anbar and America alike.

I have my purpose. Sherwood cannot enjoy the fruit of life -- he cannot watch his son become a man, he cannot counsel me, he can no longer raise his voice. There were no material possessions to inherit from my brother. Even his clothes were too big for me. What I carry of him now, what I speak in his name, what I raise my son with, represents all he has left me.

Memorial Day gives us each a chance to embrace the fallen as our own. Let us distinguish between the nobility of service and the nobility of this war.

Read the names of the 4081 servicemen and women who have been killed in Iraq. Each and every one of them is one of you. Common folks, unlikely heroes. Yes. Willing to sacrifice. Yes. Forever gone. Yes. Children will never be born, work will never be done, cries will never be heard.

Own their sacrifice and then ask yourself if you believe more of them dying in Iraq will bring justice to the world. Own their sacrifice for it is we who send them to war, and we who keep them at war.

Dante Zappala is the brother of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, KIA in Baghdad, Iraq 4/26/04. He is a member of Military Families Speak out (www.mfso.org) and Gold Star Families Speak Out (www.gsfso.org).