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Sunday, January 9, 2005

Section: VIEWS
Page B3

THE NAMES moved on the general news wire. Four long lists of them. Each name was a life lost: a soldier who had died during service in Iraq.

Two of the lists were soldiers who had died just in the past year.

It was overwhelming to read. Name after name, many of them in their twenties, who had died during service to their country.

Some in battle. Some from friendly fire or vehicle accidents. The latest group, from Mosul, while eating lunch.

No matter their feelings about the military action: It was their duty and they had willingly put themselves in harm's way. For us.

The Christmas holiday had just passed and, here in the states, most of us were gearing up for New Year's Eve. All I could think of were the many families who would face a very sobering night. Some families, with their loved ones overseas. Some, their first New Years of many grieving the death of their loved one.

I have a 20-year-old son and the thought that this could be our family was almost too much to even consider.

We decided to do a tribute to these honorable men and women by running a special front page detailing their sacrifices. One by one, the names filled two complete pages.

It wasn't a war protest. It was a published moment of silence. No regular front page, just these names.

I was a young adult during the Vietnam years and I remember my feelings then toward the war and toward the soldiers.

My feelings have changed quite a bit.

I was against the war in Vietnam. I didn't have much sympathy for the soldiers either. In my mind, the soldiers were fighting a war we shouldn't be in, and they had chosen or so my logic went -- to go. I'm sure it was a common sentiment among my age group back then.

I feel very differently now.

I've gotten to know many soldiers as we worked together to unwind the red tape to send our reporter/photographer team overseas with our soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait.

We all got to know even more about these soldiers through our coverage.

So I now separate my feelings about the war and my feelings about the soldiers.

You can differ in opinion on whether, or how long, we should be in Iraq.

But how can you differ on whether more American soldiers should die fighting over there?

On whether more Americans should be in pain when their family members will never be with them again?

We only received a few comments on the special front page; these callers felt it was compelling.

Our circulation department received hundreds of calls from readers confused about whether they had missed a section. They wondered, where was the normal front page?

You could see that as the point.

For hundreds of American families, there was no other news in 2004.

Just one mind-numbing piece of information.

Their soldier wasn't coming home alive.