The War Comes Home to Our Family

by admin | November 10, 2011 9:29 pm

I met Cody Norris a couple of times at holiday gatherings of my wife’s extended family, most of whom live in Northeast Texas. He was tall and thin, clearly in shape. Cody was my sister-in-law’s nephew who grew up in the Houston area and clearly loved the chance to spend time in the country. For simplicity’s sake he was simply considered him one of the cousins. Cody usually showed up with his dad at the East Texas farm that serves as the outside gathering spot when the weather is tolerable. These throw-downs invariably involve a fish fry, a bonfire if there is even a hint of chill in the air, an impressive display of weaponry to fire at targets and soda cans, four-wheelers — and, for some, deer hunting when in season and wild hog hunting any time someone spots one of those pests.

Cody was a polite young man who enjoyed hunting there with his dad and brother, firing off weapons, and hanging out with his extended family. Like his older brother Michael, he chose to join the Army and was a 240B Gunner deployed to Afghanistan, according to his Facebook page. That page consists of a number of cell-phone portraits of Cody in his BDUs, with an Army-prescribed shaved head, even a few close-ups of a mashed fingernail, the result of getting it caught between a tripod and a rocky surface. The comments about that photo are clearly from peers, asking when he’s going to be deployed to Afghanistan, and for how long. He says it will probably be a year, according to his paperwork.

He left for Afghanistan in April, about six months shy of his 20th birthday. On Nov. 9 he was killed while on patrol. As of this writing, that’s about all I know. Except that another family is heartbroken. This time it is a family that I have joined, and it is people that I love who are grieving. A grandmother, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, are all mourning the loss of one who died too young. Cody was killed not quite a month after turning 20 years old, serving in a war that has lasted more than half his life.

I am writing this on Veterans Day, early in the morning because I can’t sleep, haunted by how Cody’s death forever will change the lives of these folks to whom I’m now connected. They will survive this loss because we don’t really have much choice when tragedy shows up uninvited. We deal with it best we can.  And they surely will take solace that Cody died in the service of his country. I think the term “hero” is used a bit loosely these days, but surely it applies to those who volunteer to serve our country in combat and die doing so, no matter the political arguments flying back and forth on whether we should continue to fight that war or not. The soldiers do what soldiers do — obey orders and fight for our country.

NPR ran a week-long series of stories in October about the terrible losses taken by one platoon, and the effect it had on the families of those killed or wounded. A young wife who gave birth to the couple’s child a few weeks after his husband died in Afghanistan. A soldier who came home maimed and unable to find work. It was nearly impossible to drive down the road, heading home from work, and listen to these stories.

Now it has come home to people that I love dearly. I have no words other than the usual condolences they have already heard far too often in these early days. We all tend to say the same thing, because we don’t know what else to say. I just hope it provides some comfort. All I know to say is that I am heartsick this has happened, that I am glad I got to meet a fine young man who volunteered to fight to protect this country, and I pray for peace. The sooner the better.


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