by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Aug. 15, 2003
WAR'S REALITES COME HOME TO A SMALL VERMONT TOWN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The war in Iraq came home to my corner of Vermont the other day.
According to the Defense Department, Pvt. Kyle C. Gilbert, 20, of Brattleboro, was shot and killed during an ambush on Aug. 6 while he on guard duty in Baghdad's Al Mansour district.
Gilbert, who was serving with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, was the fourth Vermonter to die in Iraq since the war began in March.
Brattleboro was the scene of many protests and vigils against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But this small town of 12,000 in the southeast corner of Vermont is always quick to show its pride and heart for its own sons and daughters. The loss of Kyle Gilbert is keenly felt and the town paid tribute in a touching way.
Six days after his death, a hearse carrying Gilbert's body drove through the center of his hometown. Hundreds of people lined the streets to pay tribute as the hearse, escorted by police and members of the local American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, slowly rolled down the route normally used for parades or championship celebrations for the town's high school teams.
Gilbert was the kind of guy who you would expect to be wearing the silver wings of the Airborne on his chest. He was a great athlete, earning a black belt in karate as a teen. He loved snowboarding and snowmobiling. He was a whiz when it came to working on cars. He was hardworking and resourceful and Vermont to the core. And he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Robert, who served with the Army's Special Forces.
The 82nd is the Army's elite infantry division, ready to go at a moment's notice to where the action is. It was exactly where Kyle Gilbert wanted to be.
Gilbert graduated from Brattleboro Union High School in June 2001 and went straight from there to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. He was fresh out of the Infantry School and set to begin airborne training when the Sept. 11 attacks happened. It only deepened his intensity to serve.
He left for Iraq on March 6, a few days before U.S. forces began the invasion. "He never talked about what went on over there," his mother, Regina, told the Brattleboro Reformer. "He just wanted to know what was going on here."
Robert Gilbert told the Reformer that his son wrote often and last spoke with them on the phone on July 17. While the last letter Robert and Regina got from Kyle a few days before his death indicated that he was feeling upbeat and looking forward to coming home, Robert said that "he sounded to me as if he had in his head that he was going to be there a lot longer."
And now, Robert and Regina Gilbert's only child is dead. A young man who represented the best qualities that Vermont has to offer to the world died doing his job in a place he didn't need to be for a people who didn't want him there.
Why are young men like Kyle Gilbert dying in Iraq? For weapons of mass destruction that never existed? To bring the neo-conservatives vision of "projecting American values" into the Middle East to fruition? To lure terrorists into Iraq so they can be dealt with by the full might of the U.S. military? To send a message to Iran and Syria that they'll get what Iraq got if those nations get too uppity? To insure the access of cheap oil? To make U.S. corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel richer? Or was it all just a shuck to make President Bush look more presidential?
We know now that the Bush administration hyped the case for invading Iraq. We know now that the U.S. has so thoroughly alienated its allies that it now is stuck with the full burden of securing and rebuilding Iraq. We know now that U.S. forces may well be in Iraq for a decade or longer and that the war is anything but over.
What we haven't seen is the Bush administration offer a legitimate explanation of the real reasons for the invasion of Iraq and own up to the carnage and destruction that its lies and exaggerations ushered in.
No one in the Bush administration who advocated this war has sons or daughters in uniform in harm's way in Iraq. None of them have to fear the dread of a knock on the door and seeing the soldiers who are standing there to tell you that your child is dead.
The terrible cost in American and Iraqi lives that this war keeps racking up is out there for all to see, and it isn't a pleasant sight.
How much longer will we allow young men like Kyle Gilbert to sacrifice their lives for a lie? And how much longer will we allow our leaders to get away with it?
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).