The War Hits Home
Pfc. Garrett C. Knoll, a combat medic, died outside of Baghdad a week ago, after a truck bomb detonated inside the perimeter of his patrol base. He was 23 years old. He was two months into his first deployment.
I sat behind him in high-school Algebra.
I remember reading the headline in Stripes last week, and I ignored it. Death here is a part of life, and everyone accepts it eventually. Though gruesome, the latest news of death came to me as a non-event. I read through the Opinions section of the paper, and then discarded it along with the remains of my dinner.
A few days later, my mother emailed me, asking if I knew a Garrett Knoll. I was busy that week, and didn't have time to respond. The following day, my friend Ackerman emails me with news of a dead soldier in our list of alumni. I put two and two together. Though shocked, I again was removed from the news. Like it or not, I barely knew Garrett Knoll, and to ostentatiously mourn someone whom one has not spoken with in seven years seemed disrespectful of the dead.
Again, I processed the information, albeit with sadness, and filed it away.
Then, while talking on the phone with my mother yesterday, I finally asked her about Garrett. I asked where he'd been based, and what he had been doing. I asked how he had died. My mother then proceeded to tell me of a truck, loaded with explosives, crashing into the abandoned farmhouse where Garrett's unit had set up residence. She told me how it had taken his life, along with those of 8 of his squadmates.
And with these two seemingly separate events, suddenly crashing together, that the war finally hit home for me.
Garrett Knoll, the cross-country runner; Garrett Knoll the golf fanatic; Garrett Knoll the kid I had bitterly envied for his superior grades in Geometry is dead. He died in one of the most brutal attacks on U.S. forces to occurr throughout the history of this war.
Yesterday I tossed it aside like so much old newsprint. Today I am compelled to speak.
I hardly knew Garrett Knoll in school. He was a year behind me. He seemed like a nice kid, though I'll admit we rarely spoke. I do know, however, that he was well-liked by his classmates and he seemed to excel in everything he attempted. For his dedication, I admired him, but beyond that, I can only conjecture.
Who WAS Garrett Knoll? Firstly, he was a medic, which tells me he was more committed to saving life than to taking it. That says much in this line of work. Garrett Knoll, a medic, a healer, a practicioner of Compassion, is dead, and thus have his gifts been denied the wounded on both sides who could have used him. Herein lies tragic irony. A medic, an instrument of life, protected under the Geneva Conventions, has been felled by the indiscriminate efficiency of expanding gases. The concussion of an explosion cares nothing for such edicts. It cut him down like so many other stalks of wheat before the thresher, and now those who survive him--friends, family, perhaps lovers--comb the ashes of his life for what precious scraps of memory they can salvage.
My heart goes out to these people. I regret that I cannot share in their grief.
Not long ago, Barack Obama said that he felt that the lives lost in the name of this war were lives wasted. I understand the context behind those words, and can picture his noble intentions, but nevertheless, it was an ill-considered remark, and perhaps one better left unsaid. Only the dead can judge a life wasted or fulfilled. The path can only truly be judged who he who has walked. Garrett Knoll walked the path, and now in Death, only he can decide if the path was true.
Which leads me to a final question: What WOULD Garrett Knoll say? If he could still speak, would he tell us that his life had been lived in vain? I don't believe that he would. Regardless of however one feels about this war, we who have walked the path can all agree that the road has been well-chosen. We may not choose to walk it again; we may not even consider ourselves to be on the RIGHT road. But all the same, we are all grateful, on some level, for the steps which have brought us here.
And it is because of this, that I offer a response: Garrett Knoll's life was not wasted.
Garrett Knoll's life was not a waste; regardless of whether he believed in the cause or not. Like so many of us, Garrett Knoll no doubt found something of himself within our ranks. We all do. For this, I say that Garrett Knoll's life was a life lived well. My heart goes out to those he leaves behind, and to the memory of Garrett Knoll himself, I offer nine bows.
May the Compassion he showed in life be remembered by those who come afterward.