January 1, 2007

This Was a Man

Today brings the sad news that the 3,000th American serviceman has died in Iraq. One of these was Sgt. Charles Monroe King, the mother of whose child happens to be a writer for the New York Times. In this story, Dana Canedy, describes the father her son will never see and the 200-page book Sgt. King, sensing perhaps that he would not see his baby son again, wrote to tell him about himself, and what it is to be a man.

In neat block letters, he wrote about faith and failure, heartache and hope. He offered tips on how to behave on a date and where to hide money on vacation. Rainy days have their pleasures, he noted: Every now and then you get lucky and catch a rainbow.

Charles mailed the book to me in July, after one of his soldiers was killed and he had recovered the body from a tank. The journal was incomplete, but the horror of the young man’s death shook Charles so deeply that he wanted to send it even though he had more to say. He finished it when he came home on a two-week leave in August to meet Jordan, then 5 months old. He was so intoxicated by love for his son that he barely slept, instead keeping vigil over the baby.

I can fill in some of the blanks left for Jordan about his father. When we met in my hometown of Radcliff, Ky., near Fort Knox, I did not consider Charles my type at first. He was bashful, a homebody and got his news from television rather than newspapers (heresy, since I’m a New York Times editor).

But he won me over. One day a couple of years ago, I pulled out a list of the traits I wanted in a husband and realized that Charles had almost all of them. He rose early to begin each day with prayers and a list of goals that he ticked off as he accomplished them. He was meticulous, even insisting on doing my ironing because he deemed my wrinkle-removing skills deficient. His rock-hard warrior’s body made him appear tough, but he had a tender heart.

Those who, like me, managed to avoid serving in Viet Nam, and those of us who jabber this or that about our policy, are put to shame by the manliness of men like Sgt. King. As long as there are men like this, our country will be safe.

Unfortunately, they are far too few.

Read, as the saying goes, the whole thing, and watch the multimedia presentation.

The journal reminds me of the now largely lost Jewish tradition of fathers writing ethical wills, offering moral guidance, and not just tangible property, to their children.

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