Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Things That Carried Him


One of the most impressive pieces of journalism published in years is The Things That Carried Him: The True Story of a Soldier's Last Trip Home by Chris Jones. It appears in this month's Esquire Magazine. Its not political, it doesn't mention Bush, it doesn't point fingers. What it does is makes sure we all understand the human face of one U.S. soldier and his family.

From the digging of the grave to the bomb that killed Sgt. Joe Montgomery, Chris Jones traces this American's last ride home. We meet Gail, Joe's mom. Joe's dad had died in a car wreck. Gail had "taken to calling Joey 'my miracle baby,' because she learned she was pregnant with him the day after his father's funeral." We meet Micah, Joe's brother who is still serving in Iraq. I can see Joey's wife and their three kids (nine-year old Skyla, seven-year old Robert Joe and two-year old Ella) sitting on the front row of the church.

The piece describes when the hearse drove through Scottsburg, Indiana:

Behind the hearse, Gail sat in the car with her brother, Bill, the mayor, who was at the wheel. "It's hard to drive and cry," he said. The tears began flowing as soon as they pulled out of the airport and onto the main road in Seymour, bound for the I-65. Traffic had stopped. Townspeople lined the sidewalks, holding their hands over their hearts, waving flags, whispering to their children.

"It breaks your heart when you drive through and you see people and they're crying for you," Vicki said later. She was especially struck by the nameless mechanic in his coveralls, black with oil. He had crawled out from under a car, out of the pit, and he stood in front of the garage, perfectly straight, perfectly still, saluting the hearse, and lines formed under his eyes in the oil on his face
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This is an incredibly moving piece of journalism. Please take the 30 minutes of time required to have your heart softened.