Steve Lopez’s column in today’s L.A. Times tells part of the story of the death of one soldier, Knock on the Door, a Knock on the War: The knock came just after 6 a.m., way too early for visitors at the neat two-story home in the hills of Castaic.
After recaping a previous column he wrote about how Evan Ashcraft’s family was notified of his death, Lopez explains a chance encounter he had with Evan’s father in law, Loren Farell, a Los Angeles native and Vietnam vet and lieutenant in the LAPD.
Farell told me his daughter and the rest of the family were doing as well as could be expected, and then he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He made a comment about this crazy war and about all the angry letters he’d written to politicians and publications, trying to make his feelings known.
Loren Farell was a changed man:
He was still a conservative — “don’t get me wrong” — and still a law-and-order cop who will never get over “those longhairs” who spat on returning Vietnam vets. He still supports the troops in Iraq, but he’s done a 180 on the American leaders who called them to war, including President Bush, who on Friday lashed out at critics.
. . .
As Farell helped his daughter with funeral arrangements, the body count continued to rise, and Farell, a Republican, grew angrier. Meanwhile, he says, the Army turned the business of death into even more of a nightmare. “Evan got a 17-gun salute,” he says, still seething.
A month after his son-in-law was killed, Farell opened Newsweek magazine and read a story that said military officials were calling the relatively low number of casualties in Iraq “tragic but militarily insignificant.”
When you finish reading about the grief and disappointment of Evan Ashcraft’s father-in-law, say a prayer for the friends, family and loved ones of four more brave fallen heroes who are listed in today’s L.A. Times obituaries.
Army National Guard Capt. Raymond D. Hill II, 39, Turlock; One of 2 Soldiers Killed in Baghdad
During the quieter moments of soldiering, Army National Guard Capt. Raymond D. Hill II liked to talk cookouts. He savored it all: from a good barbecue sauce to memories of time spent with family and friends
Hill sometimes broke the sleepy silence riffing about a barbecue or an outing with relatives back in Stanislaus County.
“He was a funny, down-home guy,” said Markert, who worked with Hill for eight years. “Very family.”
With 250 soldiers under his command, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Tessar didn’t have to ride in the lead vehicle of a convoy south of Baghdad one day last month.
Realizing that the first vehicle in the patrol also could be the one to trigger a hidden roadside bomb, he could have chosen a spot farther back.
But that wasn’t his style, according to those who knew the seasoned combat veteran.
. . .
Returning to Simi Valley for his father’s funeral last June, Tessar told his family about his plans to return to combat yet again.
“I said, ‘Why go back?’ ” his brother Bill recalled. “But he went full throttle at just about everything he did. He loved the Army, and he loved this country.”
Abundantly tattooed, Tessar enjoyed an occasional chew of tobacco and was a big fan of NASCAR racing. He also followed the news avidly. “He loved politics,” his brother said. “He could out-argue anyone.”
Tessar planned to retire from the Army in nine months.
“He was really going to start living life,” his brother said. “He had missed so many of his kids’ birthdays, missed so many holidays so the rest of us wouldn’t have to.”
At age 9, in what would become an annual ritual, Michael Martino tumbled out of bed at the crack of dawn, pedaled his bike across Irvine and spent the day watching planes at the El Toro Air Show.
“He always knew his mission in life was to be a pilot,” said his mother, Sybil.
In high school, between stints on the football and wrestling teams, his hobby was assembling model aircraft. After graduating with an economics degree from UC San Diego in 1996, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and earned his wings.
When he was later dispatched to Iraq, he told his father, “If something happens, I don’t want you and Mom to get mad at the military or the government. I’m doing what I love to do and what I believe in.”
Back home, friends and relatives recalled the Oceanside resident as a quiet, selfless man who was devoted to family, work and the Washington Redskins, his favorite football team.
In Iraq, fellow Marines nicknamed him “Oprah” because he was so good at listening to people’s problems. It was a trait he developed in childhood.
“Whenever I had a nightmare, I’d go to Mike instead of our parents,” said his older sister, Lauri. “He’d stay up and talk to me until I could go back to sleep.”
He had a contagious smile and generous spirit, said Katie Ashford, whose husband, Brian, went through flight school with Martino and served in the same squadron. “I’ve never known anyone to love their friends unconditionally, but Mike did,” she said.
Brian Dunlap’s destiny was set during a television news broadcast in 1979. Just 8 years old, he saw pictures of children starving in Africa — and cried because he couldn’t go there and help them.
And that, said his mother, Dorothy Telles, was the beginning of his path. It was a road that would lead him through a difficult adolescence into a life of helping others — as a firefighter and a Marine.
“You’re just a child,” she recalled telling him then, “and there’s nothing you can do to help these people now. But when you grow up, you’re going to be able to help people — and when he grew up, he chose a life of helping others.”
A patriot, an avid reader and a political conservative who wrote on his Internet blog that he wanted to talk to all open-minded people, even “libs.”
. . .
In a lot of ways, he was like his Dad: they shared a blog, they both loved history and they traded books. He was the kind of guy who made friends for a lifetime, his mother said. He loved music, from Mozart to Iron Maiden, and he learned to surf while living near Oceanside and San Diego.
On the blog, which is now filled with condolences from his many friends, Dunlap detailed sad and difficult days in Iraq.
His last entry, dated Sept. 15, was titled “Im [sic] still alive.”
“Almost got wacked [sic] again this morning,” Dunlap wrote. “That makes 5 times in the last 2 weeks…. I’ve lost about 11 guys in my Company to injuries…. Please keep praying for me so I can make it home in one piece.”