Making Sure They’re Not Forgotten

Mark Johnson writes: You’ve probably come across Dexter Filkins’ story in today’s Times. It’s a good example of storytelling in a war zone in the tradition of Ernie Pyle and others. One feature of this story seems quite remarkable for The Times. The story doesn’t introduce a nut graph until the ninth paragraph. Writers and especially editors rarely show that kind of patience. I doubt many readers will feel they needed to get the nut graph sooner.

Here’s the top:

A soldier was dead, and it was time for him to go home.

The doors to the little morgue swung open, and six soldiers stepped outside carrying a long black bag zippered at the top.

About 60 soldiers were waiting to say goodbye. They had gathered in the sand outside this morgue at Camp Ramadi, an Army base in Anbar Province, now the most lethal of Iraqi places.

Inside the bag was Sgt. Terry Michael Lisk, 26, of Zion, Ill., killed a few hours before.

In the darkness, the bag was barely visible. A line of blue chemical lights marked the way to the landing strip not far away.

Everyone saluted, even the wounded man on a stretcher. No one said a word.

Sergeant Lisk had been standing near an intersection in downtown Ramadi on Monday morning when a 120-millimeter mortar shell, fired by guerrillas, landed about 30 paces away. The exploding shell flung a chunk of steel into the right side of his chest just beneath his arm. He stopped breathing and died a few minutes later.

The pallbearers lifted Sergeant Lisk into the back of an ambulance, a truck marked by a large red cross, and fell in with the others walking silently behind it as it crept through the sand toward the landing zone. The blue lights showed the way.

From a distance came the sound of a helicopter.

Death comes often to the soldiers and marines who are fighting in Anbar Province, which is roughly the size of Louisiana and is the most intractable region in Iraq. Almost every day, an American soldier is killed somewhere in Anbar — in Ramadi, in Haditha, in Falluja, by a sniper, by a roadside bomb, or as with Sergeant Lisk, by a mortar shell. In the first 27 days of June, 27 soldiers and marines were killed here. In small ways, the military tries to ensure that individual soldiers like Sergeant Lisk are not forgotten in the plenitude of death.

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