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May 26th, 2008
03:45 PM ET

Remembering those lost to war - the civilians, too

Tom Foreman
360° Correspondent

Coming from a military family, I have always had a special place in my heart for Memorial Day. Taking time each year to remember people, throughout our nation’s history, who have fought and died defending the principles upon which our country was founded, is simply the right thing to do.

Even when we have been involved in wars that many Americans do not support, or wars that seem confusing, pointless, or lost, it has always seemed to me that we still should honor those who fight in our name. But it is also important to remember, that not only our troops die in war.

The simple truth is, millions of civilians lose their lives in war zones: some because they live there, some because they are support roles serving our troops, and some because they are trying to do something good in the midst of so much that is bad in any war. And as the United States has moved toward a leaner military force, which relies more heavily on civilians to carry out non-combat roles, the number of American civilians stepping into the danger zone has been climbing.

I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to that fact, until I met Michael Hastings. He’s a young reporter for Newsweek who, like all young reports, was terrifically excited when he was sent to Baghdad. He was thrilled with the action, the sense of danger, the day-to-day rush that comes from being in any war zone. Problem is, while all that was happening, he was also falling in love. He met Andi Parhamovich while he was in New York, but soon enough, that charming, idealistic young woman was working for an aid agency in Iraq. They courted amid the gun and rocket fire; shared romantic dinners with helicopters pounding overhead; and ultimately they met with tragedy. Andi was killed when her motorcade was ambushed in Baghdad. Michael found out in a phone call.

It’s an awful story, as so many are in war, but an important one, too, which Michael tells in his book I Lost My Love in Baghdad.

Michael said, when I interviewed him, he wants the story of Andi’s loss to be told, because it is a reminder that there is a story…a real person…behind every name of every casualty we read on-line or in the newspaper, whether that person wore a uniform or not.

I have done three documentaries in the past year and a half on troops we have lost in Iraq, and the very brave way they died. And while this day is, undeniably, about them; it is also a fitting time to remember all those we lose in war. After all, we don’t have a day yet to honor the civilians who fall in battle, but many of them are serving their country, too.


Filed under: Memorial Day
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Matt, Eugene, OR

    Memorial day is a day to remember the sacrifices that good people make for the causes of good. War is an unfortunate thing, but it is a reality. Everyday, we should make efforts to understand and accept our fellow man, only then can war be a thing of the past.
    People think on this day of the fallen or wounded. However, you would never know it, as some walk bearing some of the most damaging scars, that on the mind.
    Some can not sleep, constantly haunted by nightmares and visions of things best left unsaid. To some, even envy the dead as they can sleep in peace, and never need to know war again.
    Alast, us veterans are a proud lot. You would never know the pain as it is ours to bear, and we wear our mask proudly hiding such tears.
    Understand, the war continues on in the soldier's mind long after he's left the battlefield. It is a battle to reclaim the humanity they feel they lost. They fight not for the cause of the state or the broad reasons given by the politician, but for the thousands of personal reasons that are everything to them.

    May 27, 2008 at 4:40 am |
  2. Jerone Ferren

    Could you please take a moment of
    silence for the brave men & women who have sacrificed there lives
    for their country.

    It only needs to be for 1 minute. If you're
    reading this after 3pm, then that's ok, you can still take a moment
    of silence....it will be ok.

    Now for my little War story ...

    When I was in the Military, fighting in Iraq & Kuwait for the first
    time, was a strange experience.

    Imagine being 19yrs old, millions of miles of way from what you
    know as civilization. Imagine leaving behind a pregnant girlfriend
    (now wife) and seeing the tears roll down her face, as you drive
    away (maybe forever), and being told that you'll get to see her
    soon, there's a War to fight!

    Imagine seeing and hearing about soldiers dying everyday, knowing
    you might be next.

    Imagine hiding under bunkers everyday because of incoming scud
    missles soaring in from above. The only warning we got, was some
    guy on the loud speaker saying, LIGHTNING, LIGHTNING, LIGHTNING!

    Some soldiers didn't even get a warning...

    Imagine working with the locals of Iraq & Kuwait for the first
    time, wondering if they were going to turn on you, or if they were
    talking about you in there own languge. (By the way, I befriended
    many of them.)

    Imagine your Commander in Chief standing in front of America
    saying, "Mission Accomplished"!! Then 2 months later you get
    military orders extending you for up to 1 year. Then your superior
    tells you, looks like you're not going to be able to be there for
    the pregnancy. Sorry...

    Imagine after the "Mission being Accomplished", hearing more and
    more soldiers dying ever day and watching CNN only report half of
    it.

    Imagine standing in a long line for literally hours, just to make
    a 15 minute phonecall, to hear...It's a Boy!

    Imagine soldiers asking you, "Hey SGT, when are we going home." and
    all you could say was, "Soon..."

    Some may think I'm complaining, but I'm just letting you know what
    it's really like. We sacrifice more than just our lives, but we
    don't hold it against anyone. We don't go around bragging or
    throwing it in your face. It wouldn't be right for us to do that.

    I along with other soldiers, took every mission they threw our
    way with care & passion because we knew the rest of America and our
    families were counting on us.

    Although I didn't WANT to DIE for America, I was willing to, if
    that was what it took to protect the freedom of America.

    We accepted Death as a price to pay, just to protect your freedom!
    Many people think we're crazy, and maybe some of us are :-), but we just want your Support!

    In reality, we took an oath and we stand by our word.

    This We'll Defend!

    Army Strong.

    Happy Memorial Day!

    Former SGT J.Lamar Ferren, Sr.

    Ps. I got out the Army because my obligation was complete and for
    various other reasons, but I will never regret the experience I
    had...and I will Never Forget those who payed the ultimate price...

    May 27, 2008 at 2:10 am |
  3. Pat, Fayetteville, NC

    Tom, loved your article. However, those of us who have lost loved ones during or after the war, remember each and every day. The military is a large community, but at the same time it is also a small one. I would like to think that each time a troop is a casualty of war, the military family (inclusive) grieves. And we still like the idea that the country takes one day to honor them all.

    Thanks for sharing.

    May 26, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  4. Sherri

    Tom-
    Thank you for the wonderful piece. Every person connected to a member of the military serves their tour. Family, friends, spouses, children, co-workers, neighbors. It's a struggle to do the day to day, yet in doing it- the days pass. I feel it is imperative to give thanks to all those serving in the military, and to remember all the lives lost- no matter what side they were on, or those who just were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think the majority of parents the world over don't raise their child to die in war. America has showered appreciation and accolades on so many of its veterans, and also been cruel and cold to them. It is a mystery why your countrys' leaders could be so uncaring towards the very people who defend the land in which you live and the right you have to choose your own path to walk. Common courtesy dictates that when someone does something for you- you say thanks. I, too, come from a family that has served this country since the Civil War. I never told my Dad thanks for serving in WW2. I was too caught up in the massive psychological and physical changes in my husband after three tours in Viet Nam to utter that simple phrase 'thank you for your service'. I should have, but I didn't. It would have meant a lot, I know now. Please, if you know someone connected in some way with the military- tell them thank you.

    May 26, 2008 at 8:43 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    Tom,

    Such a sad story and unfortunately probably only one of many in this war. I admire both Andi's and Michael's courage and conviction and I wish they had been given a happier ending to their story.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 26, 2008 at 7:01 pm |
  6. pati mc., camp hill, pa

    Thank you Tom,

    What a great remembrance you have written. Great ithought by the way. We DO need to remember and to thank those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy freedom in this country, civilain and military alike. It seems like no one wants to think about this much anymore. So sad.

    Yes, we all realize that this election is most important, and I do not deny that fact. I want to keep up on all of it and make the most intelligent decision that I can. We all do, hopefully. However, in remembering the miliatry and civilians who serve, we need to hear their stories as well. They matter too.

    Hopefully CNN will begin to show us more coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan. Your dedicated colleagues who put their lives in danger need to get their stoires aired. They are brave professionnals doing a very important job. God Bless all the brave folks, civilian and military who are risking their lives to make a difference. May we all stop tofay and say "thank you" in their honor.

    May 26, 2008 at 6:43 pm |
  7. Heather

    My dad was drafted into the Korean War. He didnt want to go so he joined the Army and did as much extra training as he could to avoid going over. Eventually he was caught and shipped out to Korea with all the extra training. He used the GI Bill to go to college and became very successful. While he was in Korea he took many pictures which were converted to slides. Every so many years we watch them as a family. When I was younger he would tell me funny stories about being over there. I never really knew if they were true. I know he doesnt talk about it anymore. He told me recently that he spent 50 years trying to forget about what happened and now that he has he has no desire to talk about it again. I never learned a thing about the Korean war in school. I had to watch the History Channel to finally see what he went through. I know that he is the most selfless and honorable man I have ever known in my life. I dont know if these are qualities that he was born with or come from being in the military. I do know this for anyone who enlists or was drafted no matter where they are from they are selfless honorable people who sacrifice their relationships with their family and friends to do a job for their country. They deserve our admiration and deepest respect. The deserve our total support regardless of the politics that placed them where they are they serve selflessly ,honorably, and with determination for achieving excellence and have a work ethic unlike any on this earth.

    May 26, 2008 at 5:50 pm |
  8. CaseyJPS - California

    These "war" stories always hit a nerve with me. I appreciate when they're told, so I don't forget. We can never forget.

    May 26, 2008 at 5:21 pm |
  9. Minou, New York City

    Hi Tom:
    I wonder if I will live to see the day we honor all fallen soldiers and civilians no matter what side they were on.
    It's beyond me that we still live in a world where some human beings of another country are regarded as the "baddies" while "our" soldiers are the "goodies".
    Life is lost, and that is tragic no matter what country you call your own.
    They all deserve our respect , soldier or civilian, my country or your country, man or woman, fallen or not fallen.

    May 26, 2008 at 5:20 pm |
  10. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Thank you for that blog Tom.
    Yes, we must remember ALL those who died, the brave and the innocent.
    Maybe today is the day that we all remember and vow to give love and peace a chance~
    Thanks again.

    May 26, 2008 at 4:11 pm |