A Tale of Two Pictures

The body of Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, arrived at the Brownsville airport Monday in a solemn ceremony broken only by the sobs of his young widow. Eighteen-year-old Christina Menchaca of Big Spring, Texas received her husband’s body shortly after noon, surrounded by family, her little boy, and Rev. Carlos Villarreal. They watched as 11 members of the 101st Screaming Eagles Military Funeral Detachment team provided full honors as they carried the varnished brown coffin from a chartered Falcon jet to a waiting hearse… “By coming here I am showing my respect,” said Frank Garza, a former soldier. Even though he doesn’t know Menchaca’s family, Garza’s nephew, who is currently assigned to Border Patrol duty, will be driving in from Arizona for the funeral.

President Bush jogs with Army Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, 23, from Eugene, Ore., who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Tuesday, June 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)… “The president met the soldier on a New Year's Day visit to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where Bagge had been recuperating from his injuries for months. Bagge, now 23 and a native of Eugene, Ore., was in a convoy hit by roadside bombs a year ago in the remote Iraq desert south of Kirkuk… He told Bush during their January visit that he wanted to run with him.”


To be clear, I believe that President Bush did a good thing by honoring his promise to a severely injured soldier that he’d go on a run with him someday. I genuinely don’t think he did it cynically; that there was also PR value to it is something for which I cannot fault the president—that’s the nature of any good deed any president does.

But here’s my problem. He did it on the same day that the body of a soldier who had been kidnapped, brutally tortured, and killed arrived home, in his “home state,” as it happens. As veteran Garza notes, above, he attended the procession because, “By coming here I am showing my respect.” People who didn’t know Menchaca showed up to honor a fallen soldier. Two thousand people went to the wake. They will go to his funeral. None of them are among the people responsible for sending him to the war in which he died.

And, you know, I find any excuses rooted in “security issues” a bit flimsy, considering that our soldiers must live day in and day out in fear for their lives.

I believe President Bush honored Sgt. Bagge by spending time with him. And I believe he should do more to honor the soldiers who will no longer run, with him or anyone else, ever again, too.

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