ENID, Okla. —
A decade ago today, troops from the U.S. and the United Kingdom crossed the border into Iraq, while bombs and missiles pounded the capital city, Baghdad.
The war in Iraq had begun. Ryan Beaupre and Jose Gutierrez had just one day to live.
Beaupre, 30, a captain in the Marine Corps, is considered by some the first American to die in the Iraq war.
The red-haired native of St. Anne, Ill., died March 21, 2003, when his helicopter crashed in the desert during a mission to ferry British special forces troops to secure Iraqi oil fields.
Others say the war’s first casualty was another Marine, Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, a 22-year-old.
It was later learned Gutierrez died as a result of friendly fire that very same day.
The last U.S. soldier to die in combat in Iraq was Army Spec. David Emanuel Hickman, 23, from North Carolina. His death occurred Nov. 14, 2011.
In between, thousands more American names were added to the list, nearly 4,500 in all, along with thousands more from Britain, Iraq and other countries.
The story of the war in Iraq, like that of all such conflicts, is a human one.
The war’s results are debatable. Oppressive dictator Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a Shiite Muslim-led, democratically elected government now being accused of oppression by Sunnis.
There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we now know, no looming threat to U.S. shores.
Some say ousting Saddam, who was pulled from his hidey hole, tried and eventually hanged, was worth the cost.
But in the light of events the past couple of years, one has to wonder if the pompous and self-indulgent Hussein would have survived the upheaval of the so-called “Arab Spring,” that has ousted other despots in the region.
But those matters are for civilians to debate. Such questions were not the purview of the men and women who served in Iraq.
They knew they were there to do a job, and they did it to the best of their abilities.
They leave the lofty geopolitical goal-setting to others.
They keep their focus narrow — do the job, get in, get out and bring everybody home.
They are fighting for their country, sure, but in a larger sense they are fighting for the person on their right and the one on their left, and they would rather die than let them down.
Thus it is with war. Politicians and generals make the decisions, plan the strategies, issue the orders and total up the wins and losses. Pundits and commentators sit on the sidelines, carping and criticizing.
The people back home offer their own opinions in coffee shops, taverns, chat rooms and kitchens across the country — those with no family members or friends in the fight offering a far more detached, dispassionate viewpoint than those who do.
Those who do simply pray for one thing, for their loved ones to return home safely.
Ultimately, the wisdom of invading Iraq a decade ago this week will be decided by historians.
But the true history of any war is written in the blood shed by the brave people who fought in it.
Thousands of lives, thousands of stories, all with the same sad ending.
Ryan Beaupre had hopes of going to law school, or teaching, and possibly one day running for public office. Jose Gutierrez grew up an orphan on the streets of Guatemala. He first heard about America from a minister in a children’s shelter. At 14, walking and hitching rides on freight trains, he made his way to the United States.
He landed in California, where he lived in a series of foster homes. He joined the Marines to make money for college, and to send some to his sister in Guatemala.
David Emanuel Hickman was a star high school linebacker, a cutup and a physical fitness fanatic.
In a Gallup Poll conducted earlier this month, 53 percent of Americans surveyed called the war in Iraq a mistake.
Perhaps it was, but that should in no way lessen the nation’s admiration for the men and women who volunteered to prosecute it.
Make no mistake, they deserve only our unending gratitude, no matter our feelings about the war’s value.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.