El Dorado Hills, California: A Fallen Son Returns Home

My daughter Kari, who lives in a wonderful community called El Dorado Hills, east of Sacramento, California,  just this morning sent me a photo and an email report of a procession that brought home one of this community’s fallen sons, Staff Sgt. Sky Mote. Her report and photo follows below:

It was so emotional. I cried quite a bit. The football team came up off of the practice field to line the street along with students, teachers and cheerleaders, who were in their uniforms. Boy scouts were everywhere in their uniforms. It was silent and reverent as the motorcade went by. So tender.  I am sickened as well of the evil and violence in this world. Especially when it’s not our fight. Just last week when school started kids in Mr Mote’s class said he talked about his son and how proud he was of him. Two days later he was killed.  He grew up here and the motorcade went right past his elementary and middle school.  I love this community.

 As Jeff (my son-in-law who works as VP of ticket operations for the Sacramento Kings) drove home from work, he said every over pass along Route 50 to the El Dorado Hills offramp, was lined with people and fire trucks with their ladders up and flags flying from the top.  He said he was choked up all the way home and met up with us on the street by the middle school.

A news reporter live on the news, broke down and couldn’t finish his report because he was so overwhelmed with the support he was reporting on. They had to take it back to the studio team to finish.

War is not some abstraction just because it is out of sight and out of mind. It is quite the opposite, and we cannot escape its terrible and sad aftermath no matter how far off it may seem. We cannot hide from its violence and its evil. War is personal, especially when it your son or daughter who is killed or seriously injured. There is nothing abstract about Sgt. Mote’s silent return home in a casket. It was as real as life gets. And when that community was brought together in grief and mourning last week in El Dorado Hills for one of its own, that reality became unbearable.

As unbearable as it was last week, especially for Staff Sgt. Sky Mote’s family, it was shared by the entire El Dorado Hills’ community. It was a demonstration that those left home, in spite of our ugly politics and our cultural divisions, have a depth of goodness that usually, in everyday life, goes unnoticed. We seem to push that goodness deep inside our American hearts where it can only be brought out by shared tragedy. A son or daughter, killed in a field of battle so far away from home. The respect and love seemed to create a palpable silence amid the American flags and tears of  thousands who lined that terribly sad and moving route home. No one shouted, “USA, USA, USA.” There was only the penetrating silence as the motorcade made its way through El Dorado Hills, past family, past friends, and even complete strangers, as it made its way by the schools he attended. Schools where his parents still teach this community’s children.

This comes during a tender week for my own family, as we quietly observed yet another anniversary for our son and bother Jacob’s death, this same August week, many years ago. There always seems to be talk about closure when it comes to the death of a child. But these are the words of those who have not lost a son or daughter, and you can know they don’t understand the terrible calculus of such a thing. As I read about Sgt. Mote’s return home, the pain of Jacob’s death seemed as fresh as it was many years ago. Time may sooth some of the pain, but it does not heal completely. Although not on the surface, the horror and pain of a child’s death hides in the back of our memory, and like an unexpected animal in the forest, is ready to jump out at you when you least expect it.

Staff Sgt. Mote innocently accepted an invitation to dinner by an Afghan insurgent, dressed like an Afghan policeman. He and two fellow Marines were lured into a terrible and tragic deception. The dinner turned out to be their execution, as their supposed guest pulled out a weapon and killed the three Marines. Sgt. Mote’s poor mother and father, teachers of my grandchildren and their friends in El Dorado Hills Middle School, will live with this for the rest of their lives. Every August, every birthday, every holiday, every playing of the Star Spangled Banner, every news report from foreign wars or troops serving abroad, even the least expected piece of news, each will trigger a memory of their son’s death. And when it does, their pain will return, even if for only an instant.

In spite of such an outpouring of love and spirit, there is a most important question that remains unanswered: Haven’t we had enough yet? It sickens me that our sons and daughters are still dying in foreign lands, while the perpetrators of these immoral wars relax into retirement, notoriety, presidential libraries, celebrity, golf, and visits from grandchildren. Nothing could be more unfair.

If an entire community can mobilize to pay respect to its fallen son in such a wonderful and meaningful manner, surely we as a nation can finally put an end to our outrageous misadventures in the Middle East and bring our sons and daughter safely home.

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