Sunday, January 18, 2009

Laid To Rest

From January, 2008:

I sat down last night to write out a few of the details of how a certain Marine was killed on my base in Al Iskhandariyah (first tour). He was killed as a consequence of what I considered to be gross negligence on the part of one person.

He wasn’t even stationed on our base, but a visitor. And, because somebody failed to give him some basic information, because somebody didn’t do a simple job, this boy died. And I do even not remember his name anymore, which bothers me.

I have long placed the full blame for this on the shoulders of a particular man (a Marine officer – Captain) who was tasked with base maintenance. He had been given a simple task, but failed at it abysmally. Specifically, there were rickety, plywood shower stalls scattered across the base, and they were our sole option for getting showered up. It was summer, miserably hot, and our flesh was sloughing off quickly, so we sought amenities wherever we could find them.

And usually these showers worked. But after at while, like all things wired by either Marines or local electricians, problems developed. In this case, the entire metal plumbing, including the fixtures themselves, became electrified, presumably due to a short in a pump somewhere. There were a few close calls, and I knew of at least one incident when a Marine had to use his towel to snag a friend that was caught, electrified, on the shower faucet. He made it, but it was an alarmingly close call.

I also know that a number of people put in repair requests with the captain in charge of base maintenance – the Camp Commandant. Nothing happened. The requests came from lower guys, Staff Non-Commissioned Officers, and at least one came from a Lieutenant. But not a thing was done.

We had a unit come in late one day. This wasn’t uncommon. They were the operators and crew of a bunch of AAV7-LVTP7s, the big amtracs: amphibious or land vehicles with treads instead of wheels.

They were given some space to park and unwind, and naturally a few wandered off for showers. One was electrocuted that night. Found, stiff with rigor mortis, the next morning.

NOW they rope off the showers. NOW they shut down the area.

After something has happened. They closed down all the outdoor showers on our base, indefinitely. Too late.

This happened in 2004. I have spent the past three and a half years blaming that one captain for his negligence. He was undeniably incompetent. I have been told that he had been relieved of two other commands before being given this third to ruin. And his irresponsibility finally got a man killed.

But last night, while writing all this out, two things happened. First, I cannot even remember this captain’s name. And while I had no intention of writing it down here, I did want to have it in mind, to restore the unbridled anger I directed towards him. I sat up until 4AM trying to remember it.

Second, as I wrote out the whole incident, how people had known about this whole thing and still used the showers, how nobody took any initiative to close things down themselves, it became more and more obvious that I could not blame just this one captain. And that frustrated me, too.

Textbooks say that when dealing with grief, the first stage is denial. Well, I’m far past that. But I have been stuck in the second stage: anger. I’ve always been there. And I blamed one man. It was easy; he was incompetent; and nobody liked him anyway.

But now, more than three years later, I cannot remember his name. I cannot concentrate my anger against him because, as useless as he might have been in his billet (and he was), there are a number of intellectual leaps I have to make to get from fact to farce and blame him entirely for the death of the Marine on our base.

I do know he was a horrible human being, which made blaming him easier, but it isn’t realistic. His negligence may have increased the likelihood of the incident, but he did not cause it.

But what did they tell the Marine’s family? He want away to fight in a war and died instead in a shower stall. Did they give them any details? Would those details have helped anybody anyway? Just make them more angry and slow down the progression of their grief? Is knowledge of the details what prevented me from getting on with things?

He is not the only man I know who was unjustly robbed of life. There are many others. And I am still blaming other people.

I have forgiven this captain of something he didn’t do, but I for which I held him personally responsible for almost four years. In my heart, that Marine, the boy visiting our base, cut down young, has been laid to rest. Directing anger at another will not help his recovery or return him to his family. That time has passed. And in reality, the captain’s name is unimportant. What is important, however, is that there are many more men awaiting burial.

Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. All so true. Time has a way of taking care of even the worst mistakes and tragedies.

    There are still a lot of tears to be shed by survivors. Even your war will end.

  2. I remember when you first told us about this man's death. I remember thinking, "What did they tell his parents?" What did they tell his parents?

  3. If I have researched it correctly, Naval Petty Officer 3rd Class David A. Cedergren (Medical Corpsman for a Marine AAV unit) of South St. Paul, Minnesota, was reported to have died after collapsing. An investigation is (or at least was) underway. I imagine that his family has been told the true cause of death, but small comfort that must be. Losing a loved one to war is altogether tragic. Losing one to incompetence and slip-shod maintenance schedules in a combat zone is altogether unacceptable.

  4. Wow, I am impressed at your raw emotions of this event, and how you can recall and write about it with forgiveness and yet a just anger.

  5. You have every reason to be angry. There has been no resolution in your mind.
    I remember when you also told me this story I was horrifed. And reading about his death still makes me saddened and angry.
    But you brought honor to his death by telling the truth.
    Thank you.