Last January 2007, as the first units were being deployed to Iraq in a campaign labeled The Surge, the U.S. Military was losing men and women to IED's and ambushes almost everyday. One of those days, January 15, saw four men of the 2/7th Cavalry and their interrupter, killed by a massive roadside bomb. The difference this incident had from other's that month, and the times before and since, can be found in a letter left by one of those men, Lt. Mark Daily of Irvine, California. To borrow a phrase from Christhopher Hitchens who writes below, "be prepared to shed a few tears."
I can not begin to tell the story of this young man as eloquently as he describes his own reason for volunteering for Iraq, or as well as what has since been written about his life and family. What I will do is offer a guide to reading about the circumstances of this young mans death and the aftermath of losing him. Quite by chance Michael Yon a correspondent, was embedded with the 2/7 on that day and wrote a dispatch describing what happened.
A few days later an article appeared in the local paper in Lt. Daily's hometown, announcing his loss.
That article told of Lt. Daily leaving a letter to his friends on his Myspace page explaining why he joined the Army after completing College
The story does not end here. Several talk radio personalities such as Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin, spoke of, and posted links to Lt. Daily's letter. His letter and it's message of the importance of engagement with the world to make it a better place, spread across the radio waves and the blogosphere, where Tom Barnett commented and linked the story. It even reached the halls of Congress, where it was read into the congressional record.
As fate would dictate, I became intimate with this story when I learned my goddaughter was a close friend of both Mark, and his widow Janet. I was privileged to attend his services and saw my fellow citizens 1600 strong, honor this young man with the most moving service I have ever witnessed.
The next month, the Los Angeles Times in an article entitled "A higher calling than duty" profiling the life of Lt. Daily and what kind of person he was, and those he left behind.
Summer came and went, and in the fall this article appeared in Vanity Fair, written by Christopher Hitchens. It seems that Mark Daily was influenced by some of Mr. Hitchens articles to enlist. Hitchens wrote a fitting and final tribute to Mark Daily.
Mark Daily is only one of the thousands, who have paid with their lives during this long war. The measure of his life is that he understood what he wanted to do with his life. During his funeral, the message that kept being repeated by his family and friends, was that Mark's last message said that, "He was having the time of his life." Some might read this and not understand, how can you be in a war and have the time of your life. You could say the same thing about anyone who challenges life and in doing so, risks all. That is the element of human spirit that keeps our species moving forward.
There is a final postscript to this story. Last summer I had lunch with my goddaughter and she brought Janet, Mark's young widow, along. Later, our conversation turned to Janet and I asked her how she was doing. She told me that she was returning to school to get an MBA. I thought to myself, good for her. In the next sentence, she announced that her goal was to go into the foreign service and use the MBA to help developing countries improve their economies. She told me that her own experience of being the daughter of immigrants, and Mark’s legacy was the driving force behind her goal.
I share this story with you as another example of the resilient people who grow out the the fertile soil of a free society. They are the best example of people looking ahead to continuing to build a better future for all. Regardless of your opinion of the war, the example of Mark Daily's dream of a better world can serve as a guidepost of our own responsibility to engage with our fellow beings.
As we approach the anniversary of Mark Daily's death I offer this as a small testament to his soul.