Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pressing Issues: Giving a Name and a Face to the Fallen

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pressing Issues: Giving a Name and a Face to the Fallen

Article excerpt

Bill Mitchell never expected his boy to make "Doonesbury," let alone "Nightline." He was happy enough that his son Mike had made a man of himself in the U.S. Army, while not losing his compassion and fun-loving nature. But now, this spring, here is the face of Michael W. Mitchell, staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, in The Washington Post, on "Nightline" and on the front page of USA Today, his name plastered all over other newspapers and, this past Sunday, etched in a panel of Garry Trudeau's comic strip.

What this means, of course, is that Mike Mitchell is a victim of the war in Iraq, shot by a sniper on April 4, dead at the age of 25, after volunteering to take control of a tank's machine gun during an ambush in Sadr City.

What does his father, a 53-year-old Army veteran who lives in Atascadero, Calif., think of the "Doonesbury" mention and similar honors, which some pro-warriors in the press have denounced? "I like seeing the names out there," he told me last week, six days before Trudeau's tribute. "Otherwise, they are just unknown soldiers."

Surprisingly, he took it further: "I would welcome printing the name of anyone who has died due to this war. Is an American death worth more than the death of an Iraqi, an Australian, or a Spaniard? I would bet you the grieving parents of those who were killed could straighten out some people in America who only think our loved ones are important! These deaths are the real cost of war, and every single one should be given the honorable mention it deserves."

Bill didn't require the death of his son to oppose this war, however. He carried a sign during a March 20 peace protest near his home that read, "Bring my son home now."Less than three weeks later, Mike would come home, in a coffin, with a flag draped over it.

I met Bill Mitchell (no relation) in an odd but appropriate way. When I wrote a column comparing the Iraq war with Vietnam on April 8 -- then a bit of a stretch, now far from far-fetched -- I ended it with a tribute to the Americans lately killed in action, using a list The New York Times carries every day (this was before naming the dead became fashionable). Among the names: Michael W. Mitchell. Someone apparently forwarded this column to Bill, who was in Germany, looking after Mike's fiancee, Bianca. …

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