Flags flew at half-staff this week in California's state Capitol. No, not for Michael Jackson. For Private First Class Justin Casillas.
Pfc. Casillas died in a suicide bombing attack on his Army base in eastern Afghanistan on the Fourth of July. While Americans enjoyed fireworks and Hollyweird mourned the "king of pop" with wretched excess, the family of Pfc. Casillas learned that the 19-year-old paratrooper with the U.S. Army's Alaska-based 509th Airborne had given his life for his country. His father told the Woodland (Calif.) Daily Democrat that Justin just "wanted to do his part."
The family has a legacy of service: Casillas' grandfather served in the Pacific theater during World War II; his father served in Vietnam. But the death of Pfc. Casillas didn't make front-page headlines. His funeral won't receive wall-to-wall coverage on cable TV.
Instead, it's been all MJ, all night and day: Nurses! Nannies! Doctors! Drug raids! Custody battles! Casket rides!
Jacko fever spread to the Beltway, where the House of Representatives held a moment of silence for the entertainer. President Obama sent a highly publicized letter of condolence to the Jackson family. And topping them all, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, drafted a 1,600-word congressional resolution that "recognizes Michael Jackson as a global humanitarian and a noted leader in the fight against worldwide hunger and medical crises; and celebrates Michael Jackson as an accomplished contributor to the worlds of arts and entertainment, scientific advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and global food security."
Jackson-Lee laundry-listed every charitable act and donation by Jackson in the House resolution -- and would have included all the times he said "thank you" and "God bless you" if there had been more room. Is it too much to ask our lawmakers to restrain themselves from acting like "Entertainment Tonight" spokesmodels and Tiger Beat correspondents?
I stand with GOP Rep. Peter King of New York, who rightly skewered these celebrity-worshiping warped priorities as "an orgy of glorification." Jackson could sing and dance. But he was no American hero. In a YouTube video over the weekend, King lambasted the media circus:
"All we hear about is Michael Jackson. Let's knock out the psychobabble. He was a pervert … and to be giving this much coverage to him, day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country? … I just think we're too politically correct. No one wants to stand up and say, 'We don't need Michael Jackson!' He died, he had some talent, but fine, there are people dying every day. There are men and women dying every day in Afghanistan, let's give them the credit they deserve."
Yes, let's do that.
Another soldier died with Pfc. Casillas on Independence Day at Combat Outpost Zerok in Afghanistan's Paktika province. He was 20-year-old Pfc. Aaron Fairbairn. Fairbairn's stepfather, David Masters, took to the social networking service Twitter to spread the word and keep Fairbairn's legacy alive. "On Independence Day, a few hours ago, they killed my son Aaron in Afghanistan," Masters wrote.
According to the Department of Defense, both Fairbairn and Casillas died from "wounds suffered when insurgents attacked the outpost using small arms and indirect fires." The Taliban claimed credit for the complex rocket and mortar attack involving a reported 8,000 kg of explosives.
Tens of thousands of our men and women are in Iraq and Afghanistan to combat the jihadi threat. Army 1st Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw gave his life on June 25, the same day Jackson died. Bradshaw's aunt, Martha Gillis, blasted the silence over her nephew's sacrifice in a letter to her local paper, The Washington Post:
"My nephew, Brian Bradshaw, was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan on June 25, the same day that Michael Jackson died. … Where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers who died that week?" Gillis wrote that Bradshaw "had old-fashioned values and believed that military service was patriotic and that actions counted more than talk. … He was a search-and-rescue volunteer, an altar boy, a camp counselor. He carried the hopes and dreams of his parents willingly on his shoulders. What more than that did Michael Jackson do or represent that earned him memorial 'shrines,' while this soldier's death goes unheralded? It makes me want to scream."
Please do not despair, Mrs. Gillis. While the Rev. Al Sharpton screamed, "Thank you, Michael! Thank you, Michael!" at the grotesque Staples Center memorial on Tuesday, many of us whispered in prayer: Thank you, Justin. Thank you, Aaron. Thank you, Brian. The real American heroes won't be forgotten.