January 24, 2007
Fallen Comrade—A Commentary by Ken Harbaugh '08
The following commentary originally aired on the January 9, 2007, edition of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
By Ken Harbaugh '08
Across the street from Yale University there is a cemetery. Sometimes, I wander over and sit next to the grave of a sergeant killed in Iraq. I did not know him. But this is as close as I can get to those of my comrades who died fighting.
I left the military in the middle of a war to attend Yale Law School. I made a promise to my wife that once our first child was born, I would "make the transition." We were both tired of deployments, and I did not want to miss seeing my daughter grow up. But there are thousands of other parents, soldiers, in Iraq and Afghanistan, who carry that burden every day so that I don't have to. Many of them will never come home.
On my last day in uniform, my Commanding Officer called me into his office. Without a hint of insincerity, he gave me his blessing. It was, looking back, an almost priestly act. There were no recriminations for abandoning the military in wartime, no accusations of not giving enough. He thanked me for serving honorably, and wished me well in civilian life.
What an amazing thing. The hardships of this war are not borne fairly -- as a country we are asking far too much of far too few. But the men and women doing the fighting carry on without nearly the bitterness they are entitled to.
As grateful as I am to be at Yale, I still feel guilty. Every minute I get to spend with my daughter is paid for by the sacrifices of soldiers better than me. As a veteran, people occasionally thank me for my service. Some even say, like my Commanding Officer did, that I have "given enough."
I don't know how to respond to that. What is enough? My part in this war, at least on the front lines, is over. I don't want to orphan my daughter. But neither do the thousands of other dads and moms who are fighting in my place. Sometimes, it is all I can do to cross the street, sit with a fallen comrade, and ask his forgiveness.
Ken Harbaugh spent nine years in the Navy before he started Yale Law School last year.