Troops, families know too well the sacrifice you don't see
by Adrienne Lewis
For almost 140 years, the purpose of Memorial Day has been to pay tribute to those who have died in our nation's wars. Memorial Day 2007 brings more heartbreaking news from Iraq and fresh evidence of the disparity of the burdens being borne in this war.
The lives of soldiers fighting in Iraq — or headed there, or just returned — have become tapestries of sacrifice not easily fathomed by Americans preoccupied this weekend with barbecues and holiday sales. The least we can do is set aside time to appreciate the young men and women, and their families, for the prices they are paying:
* As of this weekend, more than 3,430 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began four years ago. Among the latest victims is Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., whose body was found Wednesday in the Euphrates River. Anzack, of California, was one of three soldiers who vanished after their combat team was ambushed May 12 about 20 miles outside Baghdad. He was just 20 years old. For many Americans, that tragedy will go unnoticed amid the numbing drone of carnage in Iraq. But Anzack's family is left grappling with an inconceivable loss — one of 83 families to get such shattering news so far this month…
* More than 25,000 U.S. servicemembers have been wounded in Iraq since 2003. Many survived only because medical care has advanced. While that's a blessing, frequently they and their families will have to cope for the rest of their lives with severe disabilities. They include Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Mittman, whose face was shattered by a missile in July 2005. He and his family in Indiana are enduring rounds of plastic surgery. He lost his left eye in the attack and has only peripheral vision in the right. He can't taste sweet things and has to drink through a straw. "You know, it could be worse," says his wife, Christy. "He could be in the ground. We'll take what we can get ."
* The longer soldiers are deployed in Iraq, the more likely they are to suffer mental health problems. About one in five soldiers in Iraq is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress. Post-traumatic stress disorder is common, sometimes only manifesting itself weeks or months after a deployment. It can last a lifetime and shatter everything from marriages to job opportunities. Even those who escape death, injury or illness endure wrenching separations from family.
It's fair to ask why the administration failed to call on Americans back home to bear more of the sacrifice in Iraq, as they did in earlier wars. The rush to war and the mismanagement of the occupation have added to the soldiers' burdens.
But those are subjects for another time. On this Memorial Day, as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan rage on along with the political debate in Washington, those sacrificing so much to fight are deserving of the nation's profound gratitude.
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