Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Sixteen months of pain
The family of one of the northeast Ohio troops killed in Iraq struggles with the casualties
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE
|This week, the death toll for Americans in the Iraq War topped 4,000. Among the dead is Scott and Melissa Warner's oldest boy ... 19-year-old Marine Private Heath Warner. It's been 16 tough months since the Marines came to the Warners' door in Canton to tell them their son had been killed in fighting in Al Anbar Province. And Scott Warner expects it will be another tough seven months as the presidential election moves Iraq to the front of the political stage. |
|Sixteen months of pain|
The American death toll in Iraq topped 4,000 this week. Among the dead is Scott and Melissa Warner's oldest boy " 19-year-old Marine Pvt. Heath Warner. It's been 16 tough months since the Marines came to the Warners' door in Canton to tell them their son had been killed in Al Anbar Province. Scott Warner expects it will be another tough seven months as the presidential election moves Iraq to the front of the political stage.
Sept. 11, 2001 sealed it for Heath Warner. For the kid who loved G.I. Joes and decorated his room with recruiting posters, the question wasn't if he'd join the service, but which branch. Scott Warner asked the recruiters to back off for awhile so his son could figure out if the military was the way he'd serve his country. They did, but it was only a matter of time.
"I knew, even then, I had this sick feeling that he would be gone because of the war," Scott Warner said. "I remember the day we signed those papers for him to get into the delayed entry program. In the back of my head I thought: did we just sign his life away?"
Sept. 11, 2006 was the last day Heath Warner was on American soil. 10 weeks later, on Thanksgiving day, the Warners learned their son was dead. Scott, Melissa and sons Chandler, then 14, and Ashton, then 8, buried Heath in Arlington Cemetery.
Numbness kept the family going at first. But when that fell away, Scott Warner says the pain was searing, especially for youngest son Ashton.
"When his personal effects came home and Heath didn't, his world rocked," Warner said.
Yet the boy idolized his brother and now says he wants to be a Marine. Dad says Air Force, maybe, but not a Marine. Still, Scott Warner says the goal is understandable.
The war in Iraq has created several networks of military families back home. One is Gold Star families for those who have had a son, daughter, husband, or wife die in Iraq. They get together monthly " some even weekly.
"You know they call it the club you don't want to be a part of and that is exactly what it is," Warner said. "We have this little club that none of us would want to be a part of, but I am glad that I have these guys."
Another network for Scott Warner began when he established a MySpace page in Heath's name after his death. It was his attempt to keep in touch with friends of his son's. It expanded beyond that.
Warner says he wanted to keep touch with soldiers on the front line. One Marine used the MySpace network to express his depression and frustration over seeing his friends dying in a war he didn't understand. Warner talks with soldiers like him and identifies with their struggles. He encourages the soldiers to stay strong and to make it back home because their families love them.
"I celebrate every family whose son comes home," Warner said. He added through tears: "I wish Heath came home, but he's not coming home. So I have to celebrate the guys who make it and I celebrate their families because I don't want them to have to go through this."
Scott and Melissa Warner have stayed apolitical until now, but feel they and other military families are going to be dragged into the political arena as the presidential election nears.
"I don't want my son to be exploited," Warner says. "I don't want him to be exploited by a Republican, I don't want him to be exploited by a Democrat. I don't care who it is, I don't want him to be exploited for some political agenda."
But Scott Warner praises Hillary Clinton's attempt to guarantee medical care for veterans. It's an apolitical stance, he says, and one that became vitally clear when the Warners visited soldiers being treated for traumatic brain injury.
"Heath sacrificed his life for this country, but these guys are living sacrifices because they are going to live the rest of their lives like this," Warner said.
The Warners are sponsoring a Memorial Day 5K race to raise money for a foundation they've established in their son's name to augment services provided by the government and other agencies.