Thursday, January 17, 2008

A California Soldier Killed In Iraq Comes Home

There was no story in the L.A. Times yesterday so touching, so appropriately emotional, as the one on the homecoming of the body of Army Sgt. David J. Hart, 22, of Lake View Terrace, who died in Balad of injuries received Jan. 8 while in combat in Iraq. Two of his fellow-soldiers also died as a result of the firefight with insurgents near Samarra.

The L.A. Times, which does a fine job in covering the dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, devoted both a front-page picture and then two in the California section to the ceremony for family and friends as Sgt. Hart arrived at the Long Beach Airport Tuesday afternoon.

Luis Sinco was the Times photographer. The story by Paloma Esquivel was a masterpiece, because it told with such gently-worded descriptions, of the grief of Sgt. Hart's family, his widow, his mother and father, and so many others, the military honor guard, the flag-flying veterans, even the ordinary airport employees, who were at the airport when Hart's flag-draped body arrived by private aircraft, along with an Army buddy. Pfc. Richard Gilbert, who accompanied the body home.

Sinco's main picture on Page 1 of the California section is a moving reflection of the grief of the Hart family. Who can look at that picture, without feeling tremendous sympathy for all of them? And Esquivel knows the power of spare, simple writing, not maudlin, to convey the emotion of the occasion.

"Freedom is not free," as has been said, and the sacrifices of those who volunteer for the U.S. Armed Forces must always command our admiration, always when they go, always as we support them with gift packages and messages when they are overseas, but, tragically, most of all when they are casualties in the conflict. Then, their bodies are brought home, to receive the homage they deserve, or, if they are wounded, they come home for treatment.

"Spirit that made those heroes dare to die and leave their children free," was the way that Ralph Waldo Emerson put it in his poem in 1837 at the dedication of the memorial at the Concord Bridge. He also wrote in hopes that "memory may their deed redeem, when like our sires, our sons, are gone."

The same is true today. We grieve with the loving relatives of Sgt. David Hart, and we honor his service, and his great sacrifice.

The L.A. Times, much more than the New York Times, devotes space, especially every week on Sundays to all those killed in the War on Terror, and, frequently, there are longer articles on Californians lost in the war. But there is a paragraph for everyone, telling who it was , where they were from, what military unit in which they served, and how they died.

I never fail to read carefully everything that is written. We were lucky in our family to be able to welcome home, with a gala family party, one of our family members who served in Fallouja. Our sympathies and greatest respects must always go to those who serve and do not come home alive.

Thanks, in this case, to Esquivel, to Sinco, and to the Times editors who so powerfully commemorated the homecoming of Sgt. Hart. His family will always lovingly remember him. May he rest in peace.

--

The estimable Molly Selvin writes a most interesting article in the Times' Business section about the new employee handbook at the Times distributed for the Tribune Co.'s new owner, Sam Zell, It uses just 3,663 words to say in a simpler, good-humored way what was said in 11,519 words in the old pre-Zell handbook, and was written by one of Zell's assistants, Randy Michaels.

According to Selvin, some lawyers think the new handbook is too simple, opening the company to lawsuits. But that remains to be seen. I like the new handbook much better than the old, in part because there is not so much legalese in it. Anyone who doesn't let lawyers command their lives is, in my view, to be lauded and not vilified. I've known good lawyers, but not too many. Most of them are nit-picking grinds, devoted to making life more miserable for themselves and everybody else.

I'm on the lookout these days for signs of how Zell intends to run the company. This is a good sign. His number one point makes eminent good sense: "Use your best judgment." The most important thing, though, is that, unlike past employee handbooks, this one is likely to be actually read by employees.

As Selvin writes, "In place of words like 'pursuant to,' 'required minimums,' and 'appropriate documentation,' the Zell model uses plain language -- and jokes."

But, as usual, a San Francisco attorney, Mark Schickman, tosses a wet blanket over everything. Selvin quotes Schickman as observing, "In an effort to be brief and funny, they've made a lot of mistakes."

Schickman is one of these attorneys who ought to be dumped in the Bay -- with the current running out under the Golden Gate.

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