LSU Eunice faculty, staff, and students lined the roadway to honor the fallen.

A tractor droned in the distance across the highway from the airport, trudging through an expansive field bristling green with early rice.  Flashing blue strobes of a dozen police cars sparkled, leading a procession from the airport road a few hundred yards away to a left turn onto Highway 755 at the edge of campus where students, staff, and faculty took a thirty minute recess from mid-morning routines to line the roadway, flags and banners waving, to pay respect.

They gathered to welcome home for final rest a fallen Marine Corporal, his remains just arrived from Afghanistan, bound in procession with family and friends for his tiny home town of Iota, a few miles further down the road through more of those bristling green rice fields stretching  across the Cajun prairie.

Those gathered had occasion to contemplate a sobering contrast: the burgeoning crops greening to fruition, an industrious tractor doing a day’s work, the pre-summer sun drenching the verdant prairie with light of life, yet traversing that idyllic landscape a melancholy procession that originated a week ago in the aftermath of a dark and violent act on the far side of the earth.

So today, this small-town Cajun lad brought home the horror and war stench of Afghanistan to our patch of Prairie. Grounded in small-town faith and patriotic values, he joined the Marines to serve with honor, no doubt willing to die with honor if such were the cost.  Our hearts are broken because he was called to the latter, and as rural, small-town folk, we feel the more diminished.

From Iota to Afghanistan, from serving with honor to dying with honor, from life to death: A small-town hero gives his life in the face of grim dichotomies, do-or-die propositions offering not so much as a measly inch of neutral zone wherein to hide or waver: such are the unreasonable ground rules of valor.

So, in the aftermath of today’s proceedings, we dwell in emptiness and mourning, even those like me who never met the deceased.  And our mourning will linger because today’s brief intersection of Corporal Richard’s life with ours brought home to our small-town senses that vile stench of war.

May God bless Corporal Richard’s memory and his family in their grief.  As grateful as we are for his service, we hate his loss.  May we grow to hate war as much.

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