Letter to a Former AP Colleague -- Now a Marine Captain in Iraq

Article excerpt

To: Capt. Jeffrey T. Wong, USMCR. RE: American Holiday Weekend

Dear Jeff,

As I write this early in the p.m. on July 4, 2008, in Southern California, for you in Baghdad, it is already July 5, and if it's the middle of the night, it may have cooled down into the 90s, if memory serves.

Since you are executive officer "X.O." of a Marine infantry company, I imagine radios amd laptop computers are squawking, humming and clicking. I smell canvas, sweat-stained cammie utilities, and imagine warm sodas and cold, stale coffee. Since it is July, even with air conditioning, there is also everpresent 120-degrees heat come daylight.

Jeff, this is your third tour. You have gone where the orders sent you. As is the motto of your unique organization, you have not parrotted "Semper Fidelis," you have lived it. You might have kept the nice job at IBM or done something with that postgraduate degree, but here you are.

This morning, for the 4th of July, Marie and I went to the second annual 4th of July pancake breakfast at Lancaster Cemetery. You've been to a couple of events out in the Antelope Valley, a Jethawks baseball game, and Elks Lodge roast. You know how we do it here. Old-fashioned and real American. It's a fundraiser for a veteran's memorial.

We have veterans all the way back to the Civil War, resting beneath our shady trees. We have live ones, too.The cemetery pancake breakfast in a beautiful park-like setting was presided over by former Lancaster Mayor Barbara Little who gathered children from the Antelope Valley Church Children's Choir to sing the "Star Spangled Banner," and also "God Bless America," and somehow, just as significant, Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."Cemetery trustee Dave Owens read the "Declaration of Independence." As he put it, "It's still a radical document."

The cemetery pancake feed was peppered with honored guests, "Greatest Generation" veterans like Pearl Harbor survivor Remo Cuniberti and POW-MIA Jim Hildreth. Navy man Hildreth survived 1,220 days, or 29,228 hours before he emerged from a Japanese POW camp outside Tokyo, with B-29s flying over, wagging wings and dropping meals.Hildreth handed over what he wrote: "Over the years after World War II I was asked many times, 'What kept you going?' "My answer was, 'I didn't want to hurt my mother and father,' and there was always that dream of that girl back home."

Jeff, I know how much your father and mother would rather that you had chosen an easier, less dangerous path. They represent authentic American immigrant success and citizenship. With the USC "Trojan" education, and a running start at The Associated Press, by now, instead of executive officer, you would have been somebody's top executive, or congressional staffer.

Instead, you chose the Marine Corps, receiving your commission less a year after 9/11. What did that OCS commandant ask you? Something like, "You were in the Associated Press? Why did you join the Marines?"Your answer, I recall, was, "Sir, this Marine would rather make history than write about it!"

And in the seven years since Sept. 11, 2001, that is exactly what you and all your comrades in all of our armed services have been doing. Like Jim Hildreth, I bet you dream about that girl back home.

Ten years ago we worked in what we called "the AP trenches," and that was a metaphor. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan are not fought in trenches, but for anyone who has been there, serving "in the trenches" is not a metaphor.

Our time that we shared at AP, we phoned, chased and edited stories all night long. …