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Sharing the truth can be difficult without readers' help

March 22, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

· This week's online chat with Lynn Jones, founder of the South Washington County Military Support Group, reminded me again of how much we need readers' help to do a good job.

Jones' group was founded in 2003 to provide support the families of those whose children were soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At one point, Jones' son Kevin and daughter Kelly were both stationed in Iraq, so she knows firsthand the fear and frustration that is part of the daily lives of soldiers' parents.


One of those frustrations, she told us, is the portrayal of the war in the TV and newspapers.

"Many, many positive things have taken place in the Middle East that we've never heard about on the TV or the newspaper. When my children were over there, they had no schools for the children. Three schools were established during a nine-month period by the Navy Seabees. Electricity, housing and job availability is much better than before we ever went to Iraq or Afghanistan. (In Iraq,) I know also that medical facilities were available to only the ruling party's members. Now they're available to everybody.

"Eighty percent of the hospitals are up and running. Our military is the main reason all these good things are happening, and the public needs to be aware of this," she said.

In February 2004, we reprinted a letter that her son, Kevin Hurlbrink, had sent to his father. The letter talked about Hurlbrink's reaction upon seeing the photo of the USS Cole being transported home after being hit by a terrorist bomb.

"It was pretty cool seeing how they transported the USS Cole. It was also pretty sad, looking at that gaping hole in the hull of the ship and knowing poor Pat (Roy) never had a chance, and probably never knew what hit him. It's crazy - servicewide, men and women do their jobs every day, myself included, and you never expect anything tragic, or terrible to happen to you. It seems after looking over your shoulder for so long, you think to yourself if you've made it this far, God obviously has a greater plan for you in life.

"You end up convincing yourself that even if something were to happen, you wouldn't be the one to perish at the hands of the enemy. Looking at that picture really hit home. It shows that no matter how lucky you think you are, or what you think lies ahead in your future, it could all end in an instant. No choices in the matter, no argument, nothing; that's it."

No matter what anyone believes about the war in Iraq, the folks back home need to remember that these soldiers are not battle statistics, but young people who need our support, perhaps for a long time after they come home.

People ask me why we don't carry more such letters. Well, it's not because we haven't asked people to share them.

The sad truth is that while government officials must speak to the press, everyone else has a choice. But unless more choose to share, as Hurlbrink did, we're left with wire service reports of bombings, skirmishes and political wrangling.

That's not enough to tell the full story. If you or someone you know is (or has been) stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, please encourage them to share so that, as Hurlbrink said in his letter, the sacrifices made by so many won't be forgotten.

· On a lighter note, Alivia Koontz, the Hagerstown-area girl born with a rare heart defect, celebrated her second birthday Sunday.

Alivia, who has had trouble putting on weight, is now up to 19 or 20 pounds and has become a great fan of "The Wiggles," an Australian band that specializes in music for small children.

Family members say she now walks and runs and feeds "goat juice" to one of the family's baby goats.

Alivia needs at least one more heart operation but, at this point, no one is sure when that surgery will take place. Unlike Jones, who never knew when the bad news might come, Alivia's parents know that sometime soon, their child will have major surgery again.

· No Washington County official has yet stepped up to defend the county government's practice of using general fund money - including cash collected from Hagerstown residents - to subsidize rates for county sewer users.

There are two possibilities: Officials are either composing a detailed reply that will shut my mouth or they're playing possum, hoping I'll drop it. Stay tuned.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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