Friday, November 10, 2006

Naming the Fallen

In a recent Washington Post article entitled 'Requiem for the Fallen Fighters', Brigid Schulte writes of a service which seeks to put faces and names to the grim military statistics beamed by the media each day from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She says, “On the first Monday of every month, the Rev. Robert H. Malm stands before his congregation at a special service and reads the name and rank of every U.S. serviceman or woman who was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan the previous month...”

“The first thing [Malm] notices is that most of the casualties are enlisted men. The officers and the women, those names jump out. But it's the privates, the specialists, the corporals and the sergeants who are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan...”

Every week, the names of the fallen are published in the church bulletin. Every Sunday, the week's death toll is read from the pulpit. Oct. 8: 18 dead. Oct. 15: 31 dead. Oct. 22: 24 dead…. ‘Rest in peace.’

Schulte says “that with the United States deeply divided by the war and its costs, Grace Episcopal Church's actions could be seen as controversial -- political even.” The government and many news services are seeking not to highlight the immensity of the losses.

“But to Malm, the monthly requiem is not about politics. It's not about being for or against the war…. ‘These people need to be remembered,’ Malm said in an interview in his rectory office.

The names are offered as prayers, he explained. And prayer is hard to debate… This war is so confusing, and most of us live in denial. It's easier to go on our merry way, to take care of the economy, our personal needs," he said. "But we all need to have an awareness of this war. And its costs.’"

Those who have died are strangers to him. Not one was a member of the parish. And yet, Malm said, the experience of intoning each of their names is profound.

The idea for the requiem came a few years ago from parishioner Mike Hix, a retired Army colonel who served two combat tours in Vietnam as a young man. He and his wife had traveled to New York one weekend and attended services at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan, which was founded in 1865 at the close of the Civil War as a memorial to the soldiers who died in that conflict.

Hix said he sat transfixed as the pastor read the names of the young men and women who had died that week. "As they read those names, it just brought me to tears, and my wife as well," he said. "It was so powerful."

Hix, perhaps more than most, knows that a casualty list is more than a collection of names. "These are real people, with real names. These names have wives and children they've left behind," Hix said.

Malm and Hix keep their personal views on the war to themselves.

But the constant stream of names coming before Malm has had him meditating on the war's costs. What does he think about as he reads the latest list of fatalities? "The profound failure of war," he said. "What has it ever ultimately achieved?"

As Wiggers readied the list of 105 names of those killed in October for the Monday requiem, Malm sighed. "It's just so sad."

Source: Brigid Schulte, ‘Requiem for Fallen Fighters’, Washington Post, 8 November 2006.
The full article can be read at:

Image: Robert Malm