Happy Fifth Anniversary: 286 Obits and Counting

Rosacker.jpg The first obit, in March 2003, was Randy Rosacker’s, a 21-year-old Marine ambushed by Iraqi soldiers pretending to surrender. He was the 22nd US casualty in Iraq and the first with Washington state connections. His father Rod Rosacker was chief of the boat of the USS Alabama, a Bangor nuclear sub. It returned from a Gulf tour four hours before the father learned of the son’s death near Al Nasiriyah.

The last obit, to be posted this week, was Phil Anderson’s, a 28-year-old Army sergeant who lived in Pierce County. He was killed in Balad Ruz by the black plague of Iraq, a roadside bomb. His body arrived today at Fort Lewis’s Gray’s Field and with a memorial escort was taken to a Spanaway funeral home for preparation and forthcoming services. He was the 3,983rd US fatality in Iraq and the 264th with Washington connections. So far.

Along with 22 more obits of Washington dead in Afghanistan and the Southwest Asia war on terror, I’ve written 286 military obituaries in the five years, as of tomorrow, since we stumbled into Baghdad with no way out. I’ve been to some of the funerals and talked with the families -- a lot of typing and attending that is an atonement of sorts, after I killed off a soldier during Vietnam. As a cub reporter at the P-I, I didn’t quite understand the meaning of MIA -- confusing it with KIA. I wrote a small item about a Seattle soldier dying somewhere in the Mekong. The next day, with an arms-folded editor standing over me, I told his tearful parents on the phone I was sorry for killing their child.

I think I get KIA now. After filing each of the 286 obits, I have a ritual of saying goodbye as I electronically erase each mug shot from My Pictures, freeing up space for the next batch. Goodbye to Pfc. Oscar Sanchez, 19, who was caring for his family after his mother was murdered. Goodbye to Spec. Tom Doerflinger, who wrote poetry; to Pfc. Curt Wooten who said “They got me over here killing people I don’t know"; to Pfc. Sam Huff -- Sam was her given name -- who “didn’t take crap from people"; to Marine Maj. Kevin Shea, the then-highest ranking officer to die in Iraq; to Maj. Megan McClung, the first female Marine officer to die in the war; to Lt Laura Walker, the first Fort Lewis woman to die in Afghanistan; to Sgt. Nate Chapman of Puyallup, the first U.S. soldier killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan. Goodbye to Staff Sgt. Ron Paulsen, 53, and Master Sgt. Robb Needham, 51, both from Vancouver, killed a month apart. Goodbye to Lance Cpl. Caleb Powers, a country boy from Douglas County; to Sgt. Yadir Reynoso of Wapato, son of Mexican immigrants; to Pfc. Casey Carriker of Hoquiam, my hometown.

Goodbye to each unique story of life and death -- the Eagle Scouts, the high school years, the kids on the track teams, those who liked to fish and hunt, the Mariners fans, the teens who joined to get an education, and did. Goodbye to all the would-be cops and teachers and Nobel winners, to the newlywed fathers with children they never met. Goodbye to the nightmares of the families who watched the uniforms approach their door, with condolences for 123 widows, two widowers and their 161 children. Hello to more of it.

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