An affecting portrait of the first American combat fatality in the Iraq war, and of those who suffered his loss.
As Hartford Courant staff writer Buck (Flight of Passage, 1997) reports, Marine Lt. Shane Childers was “one of a handful of grunts picked every year for promotion from the enlisted to commissioned officer ranks,” and for good reason: he excelled at everything he turned his hand to, had grown from redneck to world traveler and would-be French teacher, and was “the kind of soldier whom all the enlisted men and officers boasted about and who was well known throughout the network of Marine bases across the country.” His legend, the reader is left to presume, will only increase in the wake of his death. Shot down only a dozen hours after assuming command of a rifle platoon while attempting to secure an Iraqi oil-pumping station, Childers was an exemplary soldier; of that Buck leaves no doubt. But there are other noteworthy soldiers in Buck’s cast of characters, including the young CACO, or Casualty Assistance Calls Officer, assigned to bring the news of Childers’s death to his family. Buck’s leisurely developed account of the rituals by which Marines attend to their fallen is very well done, though at points not for the squeamish. Well done, too, are the character studies that emerge as Buck relates the effects of Childers’s death on his small community and his many relatives. Childers’s inconsolable Vietnam vet father and his mother wrestle early on with the question of whether to inter him in Arlington National Cemetery, “buried in the company of soldiers he practically knew,” but decide instead to return him to the Wyoming mountain country he loved; in each step of reaching each decision, they emerge as people of great principle. So do Childers’s fellow Marines, and particularly that young captain, who questions the war in Iraq but nonetheless lobbies hard to be sent to fight there, doing the job he was trained to do.
A fine and moving story, full of heroes.