Dante Zappala recently wrote a letter to President Bush: “My brother, Sherwood Baker, died in Iraq last week. I tried to call you and I tried to write to you, but you never responded. I’m writing to you again because I believe had you known him, you would have liked him…
And maybe if you knew him, if you knew the other soldiers, you’d have thought differently about sending them.
Sherwood was a foster kid, and he came to our family before I was born. He had limited contact with his biological family. Our parents never let him go. They received him, raised him, and he was their child. He was their son and my brother.
In so many ways, Sherwood represented the country he loved. He was dealt a tough hand and turned it into opportunity. Always struggling between optimism and reality, he seemed to be on a life-long quest to codify a family.
When he became a father at 21, he embraced the role with enviable enthusiasm.
He joined the Army National Guard in Wilkes-Barre. He wanted to help his community, wanted to support his wife and his son, and wanted to pay off his college loans. He discovered brotherhood in the Army as well.
Now he was part of one more family. He found it whenever he sat and talked.
I can certainly find things about him that you would appreciate. I know you’re familiar with fabrications. You remember the things you said about the weapons and the terrorist ties ?
Well, he wasn’t as good as you, but listen to him: He told us he would be OK, he’d return safe, we’d see him soon.
And check this out–he was a “C” student, too. When he was called up, I told him that if he wanted to get out of guard duty, he, too, could apply to Harvard Business School.
Sherwood just laughed. You made him laugh. Yet, he still went to fight in your war. He never wavered, never cried, never expressed a desire to somehow get out of this mess. He went. Because he knew responsibility.
He knew it as well as he knew how irresponsible you had been for sending him. He had honor, and he had pride. Sherwood had commitment–to his country, to his job and to his unit. Maybe not so much to his commander-in-chief, quite honestly, but that’s probably because he didn’t know you. Because you didn’t sit down with him.
You just sent him a letter and a plane ticket to Baghdad.
I heard that you have yet to attended the funeral of a fallen soldier. I, too, had never been to a soldier’s funeral before Tuesday. I fully understand why you’re ducking it. It’s tough.
I heard Sherwood lived two hours after he was struck in an explosion. Long enough, I hope, to make his peace with everybody he called family. But I can’t say for sure if he made peace with you. He didn’t know you.
Sherwood is in a grave now and there’s a folded flag in his wife’s arms. He’s at rest, but he’d be happy to listen to what you have to say. Even now, you can still help him to make peace. You said we need to finish the work of the fallen. You may be surprised to know that the real work he started was not in Iraq. Sherwood’s work is here. Mr. President, I want you to look into the eyes of his nine-year-old son and see his unfinished work. Feel free to get back to me. We ought to talk. You won’t have a problem finding me. I stick out in a crowd these days. I’m the proud little brother of Sergeant Sherwood Baker.
Jerry Quickley and Christine Blosdale of Pacifica station KPFK’s Beneath the Surface recorded Dante reading this letter and set it to music.