He didn’t know Lt. Mark Daily but Daily knew him through his writing, and was sufficiently moved by Hitch’s case for war with Iraq to enlist and fight the good fight. He ended up in Mosul on January 15 in an unarmored Humvee that rolled over an enormous IED. The L.A. Times wrote his obituary and mentioned his fondness for Hitchens, word of which got back to the author, who contacted Daily’s family and ended up helping to spread his ashes on a beach in Oregon.

As soon as they arrived, I knew I had been wrong to be so nervous. They looked too good to be true: like a poster for the American way. John Daily is an aerospace project manager, and his wife, Linda, is an audiologist. Their older daughter, Christine, eagerly awaiting her wedding, is a high-school biology teacher, and the younger sister, Nicole, is in high school. Their son Eric is a bright junior at Berkeley with a very winning and ironic grin. And there was Mark’s widow, an agonizingly beautiful girl named Snejana (“Janet”) Hristova, the daughter of political refugees from Bulgaria. Her first name can mean “snowflake,” and this was his name for her in the letters of fierce tenderness that he sent her from Iraq. These, with your permission, I will not share, except this:

One thing I have learned about myself since I’ve been out here is that everything I professed to you about what I want for the world and what I am willing to do to achieve it was true. …

My desire to “save the world” is really just an extension of trying to make a world fit for you.

If that is all she has left, I hope you will agree that it isn’t nothing.

Hitch is turning against the war, although his feelings about it will probably, hopefully, never metastasize as fulsomely as his pal Sully’s have. Towards the end:

As one who used to advocate strongly for the liberation of Iraq (perhaps more strongly than I knew), I have grown coarsened and sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedence while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean. It upsets and angers me more than I can safely say, when I reread Mark’s letters and poems and see that—as of course he would—he was magically able to find the noble element in all this, and take more comfort and inspiration from a few plain sentences uttered by a Kurdish man than from all the vapid speeches ever given.

Those sentences are the epitaph for every man killed in Iraq, but I’ll make you click to find out what they are in hopes that you’ll read the whole piece. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the work goes on.

Update: MM was way ahead of the curve here.

Tags: Oregon