How many of us noticed this news item from Iraq?

RELEASE No. 20061209-10

Dec. 9, 2006

Marine killed in Al Anbar

Multi-National Corps – West PAO

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – One Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 died today from wounds sustained due to enemy action while operating in Al Anbar Province.

The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.

There is no reason for any Eph to have read this particular story, to have given a thought to this specific Marine, another warrior fallen in a long and bloody conflict, a nameless soldier who will never see another sunset, who will not celebrate another Christmas.

Recall the poem engraved inside the war memorial atop Mt. Greylock.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

That young Marine is now among the honored dead, having given his life so that my young daughters might sleep safely in their beds tonight.

Yet others are ready to take up the torch thrown by that Marine. How many of our readers know that two Williams seniors will be commissioned as officers in the Marine Corps this spring, will take their place as leaders in the most storied fighting force of the last 100 years? Perhaps they will swear their oaths as Jonathon Dailey ’91 did 16 years ago, in Chapin Library, in front of an original copy of the Constitution. Repeat after me.

I, David Kane, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.

These words, whether uttered by me or Jon Dailey ’91 or Preston Parrish ’41 or Myles Crosby Fox ’40, link soldiers across the generations, back to Colonel Ephraim Williams and beyond. The wording changes but the solemn pledge to honor, duty and sacrifice — to serve a cause larger than yourself — remains constant.

And, if these Marines do swear their oaths at Williams on graduation weekend, perhaps the College will record the event, will take a picture to mark the occasion. Perhaps the College will place that photograph on the cover of the Alumni Review, as it did with Dailey’s.

But if Williams does honor these new Marines, will Professor Mark Taylor complain as he did about the photograph of Dailey? Will he insist that the College is wrong to glorify military service, that a picture of a Marine Corps commissioning ceremony — even if it features an Eph, even if it occurs at Williams — has no place in a College publication?

Perhaps. And if not him, then some other faculty member, if not publicly, then privately. The depth of antagonism among a certain segment of the professoriate against all things military is hard to appreciate unless you have experienced it firsthand.

When I first argued against Taylor about this a decade ago, the issue of military service and risk was mostly theoretical. The end of history was upon us and the notion that military Ephs might be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice was faintly ridiculous. But times have changed.

That Marine who died in Iraq, unnoticed by all of us amidst the hectic bustle of our overflowing lives, was an Eph (not an Eph who appears here or anywhere in EphBlog). He gave his life for us, for our families and our future, for our very freedom. What does Mark Taylor now think about what belongs and does not belong on the cover of the Alumni Review? Kipling said it best:

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country,” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
But Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!

Indeed he does. Kipling’s Tommy captures the essential tension between the military and the wider society which it serves and protects. The argument between Mark Taylor and the Marines of Williams is one small example of that conflict, a dispute made all the more poignant when Death calls in a marker.

It has been 30 years since an Eph gave his life in the service of his country. May the next such sacrifice be decades away as well.

Condolences to all.

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