News of each of the 545 American service members who have died since America launched the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq has been disseminated nation-wide by the news media. Because, so far, very few of the fatalities have been from Minnesota the impact of most of the stories has been minimal.
The front page of Tuesday's Brainerd Dispatch featured head shots of Spc. Jim Vandenheuvel, 23, of Pierz and 1st Lt. Michael Stevens, 26, of Pequot Lakes, two soldiers who were seriously injured in Iraq. Fortunately, the two young men survived their brush with death and are being treated by medical personnel. In one sense they were among the lucky ones.
The account of how the two young men were injured and how their families reacted, personalized a story that many of us might have passed over had they not been from Pierz or Pequot Lakes. These young men, although soldiers in a distant land, were similar to the boys we cheer at high school basketball games. Readers couldn't help but think of their own sons or nephews when they saw the story.
Reactions to the article varied. Some said it strengthened their contention to bring all the troops home now, before other young men and women are killed or injured. Others maintained we owe it to those who have suffered injuries or died overseas to complete their mission and securely establish a free Iraq. The universal response to the two soldiers' plight was relief that they are now safe and gratitude for their efforts.
Most readers would agree with the assessment of Vandenheuvel's father, Jay.
"Troops aren't there by choice," he said. "They're there to fulfill their duty. It's too bad anybody has to go over there."
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