This is the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The media is doing a lot of retrospectives on this war. I will surely miss the reporting of Michael Kelly. He was a Washington Post columnist who volunteered to be “embedded” with U.S. forces. It was the first time I’d heard that term. And what courage it took for Michael Kelly – whose book, Martyr’s Day, is probably the best record we will have on the first Gulf War of 1990-91 – to voluntarily return to that blighted land. Michael Kelly could easily have sat out the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he had a passion for truth. And that passion cost him his life. He and his military driver were killed when their Humvee turned over, pinning them both.
I can never forget Kelly’s writing how Saddam Hussein’s brutal forces in Kuwait in 1991 would take young Kuwaiti men, beat them senseless, and then release them at their own front doors. Their distraught families would greet the returning prisoners with open arms. But Saddam’s marksmen were trained to shoot down the Kuwaitis in front of their families. Michael Kelly knew the evil we went to war to stop.
Carey Cash knows that evil, too. His book, A Table in the Presence, is the finest record of war I have ever read. Each chapter is a dramatic story of real life conflict as the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment goes into battle. Carey Cash was an all-American football player and the son of a Navy flier. If anyone was prepared to inflict deadly force on his country’s enemies, Lt. Cash was. But Carey Cash is a Navy chaplain. He records how he went into battle, but not into combat. The Geneva Convention provides, and Navy regulations confirm, that chaplains are exempt from carrying a weapon.
His faithful companion, Navy Second Class Petty Officer Redor Rufo, serves as Lt. Cash’s bodyguard. Rufo is a religious program specialist and he carries the weapon. From his Filipino boyhood, Rufo also carries knowledge of how to cook up panzet and lumpia. This will never fail to make you popular among Marines.
And Rufo, like Chaplain Cash, knew what was important in life. As he put his life on the line for his adopted country, Rufo waited for two hours in line to talk to his wife, if only for a few minutes. Carey Cash wrote of these phone calls that every word spoken was precious and every moment dear. They all know, although no one verbalizes it, that this call could be their last.