Iraq: The Fallen: Soldiers in Iraq and Their Families
Since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, some 600,000 servicemen and women have served in that conflict. As of April 26, 2005, 1574 Americans had lost their lives on the battlefield in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Each of those numbers represents an individual life — someone with family members who make sacrifices as well. Of the 150,000 now on tour in Iraq, almost half are married, many with small children who depend on them. What helps these young families cope with the constant stress of unknown danger? Our soldiers write home as often as they can to reassure their spouses and children. In return, the love and support they receive from families helps to sustain them through the difficult days.
The 2005 “National Memorial Day Concert” on PBS will pay special tribute to the troops in Iraq and to the sacrifices of their families here at home.
Click on the links below to read and share Iraq stories.
While serving in Iraq, Marine Staff Sgt. Don May wrote home often to his wife Deborah as they looked forward to the birth of their third child.
"You are a part of my thoughts every day," Don wrote in one letter. "I really do feel invincible when you are at my side."
Don felt lucky to have everything he'd ever wanted in life — to be a Marine and to raise a family. "All I ask," he said, "is to come home to my family, to make you happy and watch our children grow into adulthood."
Deborah felt lucky, too. All Don's letters were filled with love. Then one morning, a couple of months after Don arrived in Iraq, everything changed.
During the “National Memorial Day Concert”, distinguished actors will tell this couple's touching story, as revealed through Don's letters and Deborah's recollections.
When a service member is lost, the pain and suffering can be overwhelming for the families. But they are not alone. Although each story is unique, there are common experiences and feelings that connect the wives and other family members of the fallen as they learn to cope with their loss and to be a source of strength for themselves and others.
Here are some organizations that can help, through peer support, grief counseling referrals, youth programs, and many other caring resources:
Each service member's story is a part of our nation's history and needs to be told and retold — and remembered. We invite you to use the Submit a Eulogy space on this website to share your experiences.
Behind every casualty name there is a family. Here three wives of fallen servicemen describe in their own words their reactions to the news that their husbands would never be coming home.
"My husband would have been a career soldier ... He was an amazing soldier, the stories I heard from the men he was with were incredible. He needed the army and the army needed him ... We were one month shy of our four-year anniversary. He didn't get any time with his son, maybe got to know two and a half months of his son's life. My daughter was always a daddy's girl ... She sleeps with a picture of him ... It's hard to explain the feelings that I went through right off. I didn't want to be a part of anything anymore. All I knew was I loved my husband. All of a sudden he was gone, my partner, my husband, my confidant ..."
"I'm a single mom now, with a little boy, two and a half years old ... Heath was passionate about serving his country. He hated to leave us behind, but felt strongly he should be over there ... He hated letters, but he wrote me 50 to 75 letters in the few months he was there ... When his unit came home in April 2004, I had received an invitation to meet his unit ... I didn't want to go, but I had to see that he wasn't getting off that plane."
"I spoke to him the day before on the telephone. He called on Brianna's first birthday, and it was the only time he ever got to hear her voice ... The official word was that he was still on duty, they knew where he was, and there was a helicopter crash ... I didn't want to believe it. I was kind of like in a state of shock. This kind of thing doesn't happen to me ... My story is not unique. Once the soldier is no longer in the picture, it's much harder for the family members."
War falls especially hard on the children of American soldiers. For those who lose a parent to war, the sacrifice is lifelong. Many of the 200,000 who lost their fathers in World War II have only a dim memory of a dashing soldier in uniform. The 20,000 children whose fathers died in Vietnam also grew up without a dad to comfort them or take pride in their achievements. Michelle Baugh was one of those orphans.
Richard Githens was a soldier in Vietnam. A few years ago, his daughter, Michelle Githens Baugh, wrote about her father and her passage from adolescence to young adulthood:
"During a search and destroy mission in Vietnam, Army Specialist fourth class Richard Githens and his company came across an enemy bunker. Richie volunteered to search it. After throwing in a grenade, he crawled through the entrance — only to discover that a VC soldier had survived the explosion. Richie was shot twice and died instantly. At that moment my life changed forever."
"Richie Githens was my father. I was three months old, and now I had no father, and no memories of him to comfort me over the next twenty years. I grew up in a fantasy world where my father was a knight in shining armor. I dreamed that one day the mistake of his death would be corrected and he'd come back — magically undoing all the pain buried deep in my heart. He'd beg my forgiveness for being away so long.
"As I approached my twentieth birthday, a fear and anger grew inside of me. I was going to outlive my father — and what knowledge of this noble, heroic man could I pass on to my own children? Then fate intervened. A Vietnam vet named Chuck Gregoire called. He'd been with my dad when he died, and after 20 years of thinking about his buddy, Chuck needed to let my family know what a brave and honorable man my dad was. Chuck and I talked for hours.
"As Chuck talked to me, an overwhelming sense of loss and grief flooded over me. I felt the stirrings of a brand new emotion. My father had not died alone, but in the arms of a brother who loved him enough to see his soul to heaven.
"Chuck now refers to himself as my 'other' dad, and he's become just that. I feel my father's spirit in a way I never had before. Chuck gave me the precious gift of his memories. He made my dad real. He helped me take my dad from my dreams, and place him in my heart where he belongs."