Someone left a SpongeBob SquarePants snow globe on Elizabeth Jacobson’s grave. A fuzzy yellow Easter Bunny. A sand dollar adorned with the yellow SpongeBob character.
Her cemetery plot in Pompano Beach was a jarring reminder, back in the third year of the Iraq War, that it was the young — and so young — dying because of adulterated intelligence and awful planning and the strutting hubris of politicians safely past fighting age.
And because the rest of us acquiesced so passively to their misbegotten war.
Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Nicole Jacobson, who would have been 29 next week, was killed on Sept. 28, 2005, outside the city of Safwan — the first Air Force woman killed in the Iraq war. Like most of the 4,488 U.S. military deaths there, she died long after Saddam Hussein had been rousted from his rat hole, after the “mission accomplished” banner was hoisted over the USS Abraham, long after the desert had been scoured for a non-existent cache of WMDs.
She died the way most of our soldiers died in Iraq. Elizabeth was in a security detail escorting a supply convoy into Camp Bucca, a U.S. military outpost. An explosion. A roadside bomb. And another kid from South Florida was sacrificed to an obscure cause.
Over this past decade, as our troops maneuvered through the murk of a civil war and capricious allies and nebulous goals, 48 of those killed were from South Florida. (Along with our share of the 3,400 U.S. civilian contractors killed in Iraq, not to mention the 138,000 Iraqi civilians.)
I’ve written about some of our local losses: Lance Cpl. Rene Martinez, 20, from Miami-Dade County, was killed in Anbar province back in September 2006. Just two days later, Marine Pfc. Christopher T. Riviere, 21, of Cooper City, in Iraq for less than a month, died in that same bloody province. Cpl. Alexander Jordan, 31, of Miami, caught a sniper’s bullet in the brutal fight for Sadr City. A car bomb killed Jeremy Ricardo Ewing — a grad from Miami Central High School. He was just 22. Armando Ariel González, 25, was from Hialeah. Curt Mancini was an exception among so many youngsters killed. He was 43, a Davie cop and an Army reservist, called into active duty.
Two war deaths in particular have stuck with me. Those SpongeBob mementoes on the cemetery plot in Pompano Beach said something about who was doing the fighting in this ill-conceived conflict. And there was that day when a Marine van pulled up to a little house on Tyler Street in Hollywood. Carl Arredondo, father of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, knew the moment he saw the Marines in the dress uniforms approach his door. He erupted in a burst of rage, grief and violence, setting the Marines’ van — and himself — on fire.
“This has sure changed the way I think of that war,” a neighbor told me. She suddenly understood the awful, real cost of a distant, abstract campaign. But in 2004, too few of the rest of us were giving the war much thought at all. Most of us were disconnected from these volunteer soldiers, recruited from social classes apart from civic and business leaders. From the well educated. From the decision makers. A study by the Austin American-Statesman found that military losses in Iraq were borne disproportionately by poorer, rural counties. And, in the urban areas, the dead were mostly from the black and Hispanic communities.
And they were so young, these lost soldiers.
Someone posted Elizabeth Jacobson’s last few e-mails on a memorial Internet site. “I want to die happy and have a productive life. I hope nobody wishes I was never born. I hope my kids never tell me they wish I was like their friend’s mom. I hope that I make money, but don’t end up a workaholic or stuck up."
Such youthful sentiments. Lost in the war that we allowed to fester for so many years, those of us with no one to lose.