Friday 03 September 2004

To Whom it May Concern,

I found out that my brother, Sergeant Ryan M. Campbell, was dead during a graduate seminar at Emory University on April 29, 2004. Immediately after a uniformed officer knocked at my mother's door to deliver the message that broke her heart, she called me on my cell phone. She could say nothing but "He's gone." I could say nothing but "No." Over and over again we chanted this refrain to each other over the phone as I made my way across the country to hold her as she wept.

I had made the very same trip in February, cutting classes to spend my brother's two weeks' leave from Baghdad with him. Little did I know then that the next time I saw him would be at Arlington National Cemetery. During those days in February, my brother shared with me his fear, his disillusionment, and his anger. "We had all been led to believe that Iraq posed a serious threat to America as well as its surrounding nations," he said. "We invaded expecting to find weapons of mass destruction and a much more prepared and well-trained Republican Guard waiting for us. It is now a year later, and alas, no weapons of mass destruction or any other real threat, for that matter."

Ryan was scheduled to complete his one-year assignment to Iraq on April 25. But on April 11, he emailed me to let me know not to expect him in Atlanta for a May visit, because his tour of duty had been involuntarily extended. "Just do me one big favor, ok?" he wrote. "Don't vote for Bush. No. Just don't do it. I would not be happy with you."

Last night, I listened to George W. Bush's live, televised speech at the Republican National Convention. He spoke to me and my family when he announced, "I have met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers and to offer encouragement to me. Where does strength like that come from? How can people so burdened with sorrow also feel such pride? It is because they know their loved one was last seen doing good. Because they know that liberty was precious to the one they lost. And in those military families, I have seen the character of a great nation: decent, and idealistic, and strong."

This is my reply: Mr. President, I know that you probably still "don't do body counts," so you may not know that almost one thousand U.S. troops have died doing what you told them they had to do to protect America. Ryan was Number 832. Liberty was, indeed, precious to the one I lost-- so precious that he would rather have gone to prison than back to Iraq in February. Like you, I don't know where the strength for "such pride" on the part of people "so burdened with sorrow" comes from; maybe I spent it all holding my mother as she wept. I last saw my loved one at the Kansas City airport, staring after me as I walked away. I could see April 29 written on his sad, sand-chapped and sunburned face. I could see that he desperately wanted to believe that if he died, it would be while "doing good," as you put it. He wanted us to be able to be proud of him. Mr. President, you gave me and my mother a folded flag instead of the beautiful boy who called us "Moms" and "Brookster." But worse than that, you sold my little brother a bill of goods. Not only did you cheat him of a long meaningful life, but you cheated him of a meaningful death. You are in my prayers, Mr. President, because I think that you need them more than anyone on the face of the planet. But you will never get my vote.

So to whom it may concern: Don't vote for Bush. No. Just don't do it. I would not be happy with you.


Brooke M. Campbell
Atlanta, GA


Kirksville, Missouri - A soldier from northeast Missouri was among eight killed April 29, 2004, in a car bombing in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Defense said Monday.

Sergeant Ryan M. Campbell, 25, of Kirksville, was a member of the Army's 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Division.

The soldiers were removing roadside bombs from a highway south of Baghdad. Campbell's mother, Mary Ann MacCombie of Kirksville, said the unit intercepted a station wagon crammed with 500 pounds of ammunition, and the driver detonated an explosive.

Campbell was stationed in Germany before he was sent to Iraq. He originally had been expected to return to the United States in April, but his duty in Iraq was extended three months.

"He's supposed to be home now," said MacCombie, recalling that her son called twice Wednesday, a day before he died. "His last words were, 'I'll be back in July.'"

Campbell joined the National Guard along with his best friend, Brendan McEvoy, several years ago. The pair enlisted in the Army in February 2002.

MacCombie said Campbell was an avid outdoorsman and a talented drummer who tried to assemble a band during his time in Germany. He graduated from Truman State University in Kirksville and planned to attend graduate school after completing his military service.

A memorial service will be Friday at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Kirksville. A specific time has not been set. Campbell will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Other soldiers killed in the attack were

  • Staff Sergeant Esau G. Patterson Jr., 25, of Ridgeland, South Carolina
  • Staff Sergeant Jeffrey F. Dayton, 27, of Caledonia, Mississippi
  • Specialist James L. Beckstrand, 27, of Escondido, California
  • Specialist Justin B. Schmidt, 23, of Bradenton, Florida
  • Private First Class Ryan E. Reed, 20, of Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Private First Class Norman Darling, 29, of Middleboro, Massachusetts
  • Private First Class Jeremy Ricardo Ewing, 22, of Miami, Florida


  Ryan Montgomery Campbell
    SGT US Army
    Veteran Service Dates: February 2002 - April 2004
    Date of Birth: 11/07/1978
    Date of Death: 04/29/2004
    Date of Internment: 05/11/2004
    Buried at: Section 60 Site 7979 - Arlington National Cemetery


It's always good to remember that the numbers have names and faces. And the faces do not lie.


"To whom it may concern," usually accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, was the way—through black humor—that infantrymen in Vietnam acknowledged among themselves that whether you live or die in war is most often just a matter of fate. None of them, I believe, would agree that civilians in a combat zone should be subjected to the same unholy circumstance.

...Lest we forget George Bush's 12,000 dead Iraqi civilians, none of whom, to my knowledge, had a gun or a reason to be murdered...

Ms. Campbell's letter, along with the photograph her brother wanted placed on his coffin, can be found here:


Please note that Ryan Montgomery Campbell is NOT riverrun's brother. He is ALL our brothers. To the numerous noders who offered rr condolences, thank you and bless you. I believe the whole point of posting Ms. Campbell's letter here is that shock of recognition you felt when you read it.

It is my firm belief that war is serious business best not left to cowboys and corporations. It is also my firm belief that in order to prosecute—as they say—this misbegotten war and the others that will surely follow on its heels, conscription WILL be reinstated, no matter who is elected in November. The mechanism is already in place, the draft boards are staffed. Registration continues apace.

The price we pay for American hubris is written in the blood of our brothers.

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