Byron York reports on meeting a person from each of these groups--a soldier and a parent of a fallen Marine.
Warning: This article is powerful and compelling. You must read it.
At John McCain’s rallies these days, the talk is of taxes and Joe the Plumber and the financial crisis and mortgage relief and an end to wasteful federal spending. Those are all perfectly fine things for a campaign to emphasize; polls show voters of all stripes are overwhelmingly concerned about the economy. But at McCain’s events, you’ll also find people who’ve come for another reason, one that is slipping in the polls of voters’ concerns but is deeply personal to them: the war in Iraq.
“I just gave John McCain my Purple Heart,” Marine Sgt. Jack Eubanks told me a few minutes after McCain finished a speech at a campaign rally in Woodbridge, Virginia Saturday. “I said, ‘I want to give this to you, sir, as a reminder that we want you to keep your promise to bring us home in victory and honor, so it will mean something.’"
“We fought over there, and we want it to mean something,” Eubanks continued. “We don’t want to come back and it just be all for nothing.”
Eubanks, 22 years old, knows as much about the war as anyone. On October 3, 2005, he was in a Humvee on patrol near the Syrian border when an IED went off. “I was thrown from the vehicle, took some shrapnel, landed on my spine and mashed it up a little bit,” Eubanks told me in a remarkably good-humored way. He was injured much more than just a little; it took him eleven months to recover. And then — then he volunteered to go back. In August 2007, he was hurt again in a strangely similar way. “Hit by a mortar, thrown from a vehicle — the same situation,” Eubanks told me. Now, he’s teaching recruits at Marine Corps Base Quantico — and walking with a cane.
These days, as he ponders the war and the meaning it has for him — he says he saw remarkable progress in Iraq between his 2005 and 2007 tours — Eubanks’s overwhelming fear is that it might all be for naught. “I think Obama’s just going to pull everyone home as soon as he can, despite what’s going on over there,” he told me. “I just don’t want it to turn into another Vietnam or worse where everything we fought for, and all my buddies who died over there, it was just for nothing.” Eubanks believes McCain — he called McCain “so inspiring” and said he was in awe of the senator during their brief meeting — will prevent that from happening.
As I talked to Eubanks, just a few feet away a conversation — well, a pretty loud exchange of views — was wrapping up. It involved the now-famous Tito the Builder, who I wrote about a few days ago, and reporters who questioned Tito’s fervent support for McCain. Near the end of the conversation, a tall man joined in. “Obama’s not interested in change for the United States,” the man said. “He’s interested in himself.”
The subject of Iraq came up. “We are winning!” said Tito. “We are winning!”
“My son was over there,” the man added. “And all these guys came back and said the media was causing the hype that we were losing that war, and that was not true.” More debate followed.
Finally, the talk wound down, and the tall man walked away. I walked over and asked his name. He was Greg Medina, and he lived nearby in Woodbridge. His son had been to Iraq? “He was with 1/3,” Medina said, referring to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
“We buried him two years to the day after he graduated from boot camp.”
Medina told me the story of his son, Brian, who was killed after being in Iraq less than two months, shot to death on November 12, 2004 in fierce house-to-house fighting in Fallujah. The day it happened, Greg had slept badly and had a vague and awful premonition in the hours before Marine officers knocked on his door to deliver the news. Brian was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Now, Medina, who himself served 20 years in the Navy, is filled with the dread that his son’s death will have no meaning. “My fear is that if Obama gets elected, everybody who went over there and died, died in vain because he’s just going to drag this country through the mud,” Medina told me. He knew that sounded a little harsh, so he added, “That’s my opinion.” And then he said: “Whoever wins, I wish them luck, obviously, because I live in this country, and I don’t want to see anything bad happen.”
Talking to Medina brought back a conversation I had with McCain back in October 2007 as we rode around Iowa in a campaign van. McCain was talking about how badly the Bush administration had mismanaged the war. “The thing that makes you almost cry is that one of the battles that will rank among the most courageous the Marines have ever fought is the battle of Fallujah,” McCain told me. “They lost 86 guys and several hundred wounded in the most bitter kind of house-to-house fighting. And you know what happened then? They left. They left. After sacrificing 86 of those brave young 19- and 20-year-olds, they left. I mean, it’s unconscionable.”
Brian Medina was one of those 20-year-olds killed in that fighting. Less than a year later, Jack Eubanks was blown out of his Humvee. Now, Eubanks and Greg Medina are counting on John McCain to keep his promise, should he become commander-in-chief. Some things are more important than the economy.
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