Where Have All the Blowhards Gone?

An Iraq invasion retrospective!

"The war has been successful to a large extent, but it isn't finished in that we haven't been able to gracefully exit," says Leyes, who never joined the service. "There's continued resistance. I wish we could get a better handle there or get to the point where we feel comfortable exiting the nation and bring our boys home."

As to the disappearance of the war's supporters, all Leyes can do is shrug. "It's just human nature, I guess," he says. "The urgency seems to have gone out of it." Then he thinks about what he just said. "Maybe it would be a good time for the city of Garden Grove to re-assert our position."

—Gustavo Arellano

The Irvine War Memorial

It seems Irvine desperately needs a war memorial. What else would explain the sudden appearance of a hodge-podge of wooden stakes and plastic American flags on the corner of Yale and Bryan immediately after bombs dropped on Baghdad? Irvine City Councilmember Christina Shea declared the site "unbelievable and breathtaking." What was truly unbelievable and breathtaking was the knee-jerk patriotism of the Irvine City Council. On July 22, they voted 4-0 to turn that patch of sticks into a permanent Iraq War Memorial at Northwood Park. Now, all of Orange County can target Irvine with eggs as the body bags—or "transfer tubes," as the Pentagon calls them—come home. Asher Milgrom, the memorial's creator, said, "They're dying over there for us over here. It's that simple." No, it's not Asher. They're dying over there because we'll believe anything over here. In wartime, gullibility is contagious. Irvine Council member Mike Ward said the memorial was the best idea that has come before him during his 11 years on the council. The best idea? We'll remember that. "It's this community's deepest wish that these efforts might ease the suffering of those families that have suffered the ultimate sacrifice," said Irvine resident Pam Gooderham. I recall this moment at the memorial: a boy of maybe five asked his mom if she would erect a sign with his name on it. "You're too young,"she replied. In a moment off weakness, I hesitated and lost the chance to tell her, "Don't bet on it."

—Nathan Callahan

"I've had so many people come
up and ask about Kenny, and
when I tell them he's still over there,
they say, 'He's still over there? I thought
the war was over? It's not over. They're
dying over there every day."
Barbara Sanderfur with son Kenny
Photo by Jeanne Rice
It's the Peace That's Killing Her

When Barbara Sandefur's son finally came back from Iraq last month, she expected to meet a different young man. Kenny enlisted with the Marines upon graduating from Huntington Beach High last year, joining because of the discipline and structure, something Barbara credits with giving him the motivation to finish high school.

"They really pushed at the end, and that was good," she says. "Of course, they also said he wouldn't see any combat action for at least two years. Yeah, right."

But the Kenny who came back from Iraq was pretty much the Kenny who'd left: headstrong, she says, "in need of an attitude adjustment." A teenager, in other words, which is what Kenny will be until he turns 20 later this month.

One of the first things he did upon returning—besides tell Barbara that he didn't want to talk about what he'd seen in Iraq—was buy a truck. He has been driving around, though never out of cell phone range from Barbara, who calls to check up on him regularly—"A mom thing," she says.

She hardly slept while he was in Iraq, napping occasionally in front of one of the televisions that were always on in her house, always certain to first turn on a VCR because "I knew the moment I fell asleep was the moment I should have been there."

Things only got worse once the war ended. Kenny is part of the Marine First Division that led the drive into Baghdad. During those days, soldiers killed in action were top news, their pictures flashed onscreen along with their names and hometowns, their qualities and aspirations recounted. But after George W. Bush declared an end to combat operations in Iraq—later backtracking to say he'd meant it was an end to "major" combat operations—something changed. Soldiers kept dying, but increasingly their names and pictures didn't make the evening news; their deaths were handled more matter-of-fact, often buried inside other stories about the efficacy of nation building or how the war was playing in New Hampshire.

These were the worst times. Barbara pacing, checking her TVs, websites and message boards for the name of the dead soldier. When a car door would slam on the street outside, she waited for the officious footfall and knock at the door that would signal an end to life as she knew it. That it never came allowed her only a moment of relief.

"I'd feel good, and then I'd feel guilty right away," she says, her tone quivering somewhere between sardonic and grief-stricken. "I'd feel guilty for feeling good because I knew there was someone else getting that knock on their door."

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