2 April 2003
Yesterday was an eventful day in Powell history. The first combat casualty of the war with Iraq was laid to rest here in this small town of just under 6,000 residents. Of all the places to claim the first loss of life in the war, Powell’s name came to the top—what a lottery to win. Although the Lieutenant did not grow up here, his parents have been residents for several years and thus, Powell ended up in the nation’s headlines.
The funeral for 2nd Lt. Therrel Shane Childress was held in the college gymnasium with an estimated 1,200 in attendance. The town turned out like he was truly one of their own. The funeral was short and simple. Following the services, Lt. Childress’ remains were taken to Crown Hill Cemetery on the outskirts of town for burial including full military honours. I did not attend the burial due to an afternoon class commitment.
That evening after night class, I jumped on my bicycle and headed home while thinking of the Lieutenant. Every time someone is laid to rest that I know (or at least know beyond the news), I always find myself thinking about them on that first evening following their burial. A stark and blunt epiphany finds me, “This will be the first night of an eternity that he will spend in the cold, dark ground.” The idea or thought comes to me as if that person were still alive or aware of their surroundings. As if they were sentenced to an eternity of camping out in the same place and being totally self-supporting. Even in death, Lt. Childress’ body was cared for and watched over up until last night. Resources were consumed. I was told by one reporter at the funeral that a lone marine stands guard over another marine’s body twenty-four, seven until he is finally laid to rest.
And so yesterday afternoon, all the inertia related to this fine soldier came to a final and definite halt. While the dynamics of the world beyond his tomb continue to move about and change, nothing will change within that tiny, confined space of a coffin that is now the only world of what remains of Lt. Childress. And nothing is needed from beyond that tomb for the remainder of the soldier’s journey wherever it may lead—not even the basics of food, warmth or companionship. Barring the catastrophic destruction of the earth, relocation of the cemetery or some future law that will abolish and call for the destruction of cemeteries, what remains of Lt. Childress can and will always be found in the same place here in (of all places) Powell, Wyoming—you can count on it.