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A Jo’rneyman’s Song

Shipping Specialists Staff Sgt. Star Samuels, front, and Tech. Sgt. Willard Rico, rear, place a U.S. flag over a casket during a dry run of procedures for the dignified transfer of remains shipping process at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, Dover Air force Base, Delaware, March 31, 2009. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III / US Air Force)

For tomorrow we laugh and tomorrow we cry

Tomorrow we dance and tomorrow we die

And tomorrow you will be my yesterday song

And I would die richer for having you known

Sing away, hey, a Jo’rneyman’s Song

Tonight I will drink to you all ev’ning long…

– Barleyjuice

His name was Ryan J. Wilson. He was from California, 26 years old, and he died on the 20th of May serving in the Afghanistan war. According to the Department of Defense, Ryan J. Wilson was the 3,000th member of the coalition forces fighting that war, and the 1,974th American, to die since it began a decade ago.

We still don’t do body counts – we do drones by the score, but not body counts – so I can’t tell you how many Afghani soldiers and civilians have also died over these last ten years. I can’t tell you their names, how old they were, or where they came from. I wish I could, but since that information is not available due to reasons of national security and stuff, I thought you should have at least one name to dwell on over this long, relaxing weekend.

His name was Ryan J. Wilson. He was 26, from California, and I will never get to meet him and thank him for his service.

I’ve noticed, lo these last few years, how mainstream and awesome and cool our wars have become. We have one urban combat video game after another, complete with insane, hard-core graphics that give the player a real taste of actual combat. Isn’t that cool? There have been a bunch of movies, too, capitalizing on everything from horrible injuries to PTSD to multiple deployments – you know, the stuff actual soldiers have been dealing with for ten years now – in order to entertain us.

Are we not entertained? Of course we are. This is America. One death is a tragedy. Five is a massacre. Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths? That’s just foreign policy, and a bitchin’ video game, and nine dollars at the multiplex on Friday night. Granted, war stories and war games have been part of our cultural American consciousness since the shots fired on the Lexington green, but it seems almost pornographic to turn what has happened over the last decade into a cash cow.

There’s a commercial on local TV here in Boston for a jewelry store sale that uses “Shock and Awe” as its tag line. The diamonds and bracelets and necklaces are displayed against an olive drab camouflage background, with the voice-over crowing, “Give her shock and awe, fellas, and buy her this blab la bla-diddy-bla…”

His name was Ryan J. Wilson.

Ten years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a book denouncing the folly of George W. Bush’s impending invasion of Iraq. For years afterward, I would receive letters, emails and phone calls from the mothers, fathers, wives, siblings and children of soldiers who had died in that war, asking me why it had happened, why we were there, why, and why, and why. All of my answers – oil, money, politics, power – were ashes in my mouth. It is no different now.

Ryan J. Wilson had his reasons, and chose to serve, and gave the last full measure of devotion in doing so. Many thousands more went before him to their final reckoning, and more will certainly follow, because America is two years into her third decade of permanent war, and there is no end in sight. There is too much money to be made, too many resources to plunder, too many elections to win, too many “news” media people in search of a cheap ratings boost, and far far far too many Americans who have no skin in the game beyond a dead video game character or a yellow magnetic ribbon on their back bumper.

His name was Ryan J. Wilson. I never met him, and I never will. I wish I’d gotten the chance.

Don’t forget him. Don’t forget any of them. We are surely damned if we do.

So let’s drink to the company all that we keep

Drink to the sun and the stars and the deep

And the prospect to meet up in future reprise

Occasion to gaze in your beautiful eyes

Sing away, hey, a Jo’rneyman’s Song

Tonight I will drink to you all ev’ning long…

The title and lyrics used in this article can be found here. It is a song I recommend highly.

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