The Last to Die

Here’s an eloquent and powerful piece by poet and Iraq War veteran Brian Turner, published in the New York Times:

Requiem for the Last American Soldier to Die in Iraq

At some point in the future, soldiers will pack up their rucks, equipment will be loaded into huge shipping containers, C-130s will rise wheels-up off the tarmac, and Navy transport ships will cross the high seas to return home once again. At some point — the timing of which I don’t have the slightest guess at — the war in Iraq will end. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — I’ve been thinking about the last American soldier to die in Iraq.

Tonight, at 3 a.m., a hunter’s moon shines down into the misty ravines of Vermont’s Green Mountains. I’m standing out on the back deck of a friend’s house, listening to the quiet of the woods. At the Fairbanks Museum in nearby St. Johnsbury, the lights have been turned off for hours and all is dark inside the glass display cases, filled with Civil War memorabilia. The checkerboard of Jefferson Davis. Smoothbore rifles. Canteens. Reading glasses. Letters written home.

Four or five miles outside of town, past a long stretch of water where the moon is crossing over, a blue and white house sits in a small clearing not far from where I stand now. Chimney smoke rises from a fire burned down to embers. A couple spoon each other in sleep, exhausted from lovemaking. One of them is beginning to snore. I want them to wake up and make love again, even if they need the sleep and tomorrow’s workday holds more work than they might imagine.

Who can say where that last soldier is now, at this very moment? Kettlemen City. Turlock. Wichita. Fredricksburg. Omaha. Duluth. She may be in the truck idling beside us in traffic as we wait for the light to turn green. He may be ordering a slice of key lime pie at Denny’s, sitting at a booth with his friends after bowling all night. What name waits to be etched on a stone not yet erected in America? Somewhere out in the vast stretches of our country, somewhere out in Whitman’s America, out among the wide expanse of grasses, somewhere here among us the last soldier may lie dreaming in bed before the dawn as the sun sets over Iraq. [full text]

In the event that you have lost count or have closed your eyes to the horror, 3,845 American soldiers have perished so far in the Iraq War.