Casualty Announcements Every Bit as Painful as Ever

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Some of the Defense Department’s short casualty announcements cause me to stop and think more than others, though they are all equally tragic, of course. I try to read them all, and they don’t seem to be getting less painful with time.

But even in those brief announcements — the age, rank, unit, and a general description of the cause of death — there is sometimes something that strikes me. Sometimes it is the age. I imagine the deaths of kids who could technically have been my own children, who died before they were legally allowed to drink a beer.

Sometimes I recognize a home town as someplace I’ve driven through, or at least heard of. Part of it is that the human mind abhors a vacuum, and because the announcements are so very brief, my mind tries to imagine the details of what the soldier or Marine might have been like. An announcement today read like this:

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of three soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died July 18 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their convoy with an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 131st Transportation Company, 213th Area Support Group, Williamstown, Pa.

Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Kenneth R. Vangiesen, 30, of Erie, Pa.

Sgt. Edward W. Koehler, 47, of Lebanon, Pa.

Sgt. Brian K. Mowery, 49, of Halifax, Pa.

That’s a Pennsylvania National Guard unit. So while these were soldiers, they also had day jobs. Mowery could have been not just a father, but maybe even a grandfather. I’ve driven through Erie…