Father Bob

The Washington Post ran a simple yet beautiful story yesterday on "Father Bob," an Air Force chaplain who greets the remains of US soldiers.

Father Bob is Robert Cannon, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve, currently on active duty. The reporter for this piece just got out of the way and watched him work.

The moment, he said, is for him and the dead and God. Although it may be a solemn, even beautiful, occasion, it is no spectacle, he said. It is the military's way of welcoming fallen warriors home from the battlefield and honoring them, as well. No matter how many prayers Cannon writes, he continues to be awed and humbled by the sacrifice.

"Lord God, we stand humbly before these valiant Marines," he said in a recent service aboard the plane. "It is our deep and sacred honor to welcome them home once again. . . . Bless their fellow Marines with whom they served. Protect and guard them. May the bravery of these Marines strengthen our resolve in the difficult work of laying the foundation for peace in our time."

There are a number of small details, mentioned almost in passing, that reporter Christian Davenport got right. Like how some of the bodies have had such violence done to them that they can only be indentified by
" DNA, dental records or fingerprints." Father Bob watches over the people caring for the bodies as well, knowing that what they see can be overwhelming.

Some months back, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of stories on the human cost of the war in Iraq (I don't think they are online). One showed a woman washing the body of her little girl, who was killed in the US-led invastion, a collateral casualty of war. It was a haunting image.

So too is this small bit of the Post story. Cannon, who will go to Iraq in September, said he tries to tune out news from the war--he's seen too much of the aftermath firsthand. But it doesn't always work.

Just last week, he saw the story of the three Marines, including Lance Cpl. Patrick Adle, 21, of Bel Air, Md., killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb.

When he saw the news, he knew their remains could arrive at Dover anytime, and he began thinking of what he would say on their behalf.


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