I love journalism – well, most aspects of it anyway. In reality, there are a few parts of the job description that I can hardly stomach. As another anniversary of Sept. 11 comes and goes, it brings home the not-so-comfortable components of my profession.
Despite journalism’s mantra of objectivity, I have yet to acquire anything close to a detached approach when the job requires a call to families after an unexpected death occurs. My stomach literally knots up with angst.
I don’t do well with arms-length when such eternal matters arise, and I can’t help but express my heartfelt condolences on those occasions – even though I have yet to know any of the people who prompted my calls.
That said, it was with a heavy heart I covered the untimely death of U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Maddox. And it was with a heavier heart I wrote the final chapter of the Enterprise’s coverage.
You see, I’m the son of two Army veterans. In fact, my mom and dad met on the other side of the world, during the conflict in Vietnam. My three older brothers and I are very direct products of that war. As a result, the military in general, and the Vietnam War in particular, are interwoven into the family fabric.
Growing up, the Crane brothers were instilled with a profound respect for all who put on a uniform. And my respect only grew after I attended the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va., where I completed the training at the ripe old age of 30 but did not accept the officers’ commission. I realized early in the 10-week program that this old dog wasn’t up to learning the new tricks required in military service, but the experience gave me a very small taste of the monumental sacrifices made by every single person who serves. And each one is a hero in my eyes.
The premature death of Maddox is a direct reminder of that fact and writing about him was a troubling experience. He was on leave from his second tour in Afghanistan, where we are still at war. But Maddox died a hero, despite the circumstances surrounding his death.
I don’t know where he was coming from or where he was going on that fateful night. And I certainly can’t imagine the pain left in the wake of his death for family and friends plagued by questions with no easy answers. And I can’t fathom the burden now carried by his longtime friend – a burden heavier than anyone should ever bear.
But I do know that his death was not in vain.
Maddox touched lives during his time on Earth. I heard it amid the shocked disbelief in people’s voices as I broke the news to them over the phone. I saw it in the photos and sorrowful descriptions.
And in death, he continues to touch lives. As his funeral procession traveled through Calaveras County, residents stood along the roadside to honor the fallen. Flags were waved. Hats were removed. Children stood with hands over hearts. The tremor-riddled hands of the old and gray saluted the passing procession and the scene was more than my words can ever describe.
Moments like these provide a rare glimpse into the deeper truths of life often seen in human action, but rarely captured in human words. Attempts to describe the indescribable always seem to fall short.
But the images are burned in my mind and a lump forms in my throat as I remember the sight – the first step of a hero’s journey to Arlington National Cemetery.
How often we forget that we’re surrounded by these unsung heroes. Some may have passed, but many others live on as our neighbors, coworkers, family and friends.
This oh-so-modern culture of ours loves to distract us at every turn with a barrage of false images and hollow values, all competing to entertain the fickle masses. But we must never forgot those who serve, sacrifice and maintain those longstanding principles that survive the test of time: integrity, respect, service, loyalty, courage, discipline and honor.
None of us is perfect. Not one of us is free from blemish, but we must not stop striving. We must never stop pursuing those universal ideals that can change the world.
Maddox had set his sights on those ideals. He pursued those ideals in his service. And someone you know is striving as well.
So on this day, soon after Sept. 11, where many found a few quiet moments of contemplation, we should be eternally grateful for those who have put it on the line for every one of us – military members, police officers, firefighters – those who consciously chose a job description with sacrifice at the core.
Maddox was one and I thank him for it. But many others live on and we should thank them, too.