October 1, 2001 was the day the United States began military operations in Afghanistan. Almost 10 years later, many have forgotten about that war. In the heads and hearts of most Americans there are more pressing issues. There’s the economy, and there’s the debt. But, other than being an occasional talking point or campaign pitch, the first two conflicts the United States has taken on in the Middle East is nothing more than second page news.
In driving around West Virginia these past few days, you can see that the flags are at half staff. But, why? Who died? It must have been someone famous. Perhaps a politician?
None of the above.
The lowered flags are for 19 year old PFC Andrew Harper from Maidsville, West Virginia. This graduate of University High School in Morgantown was killed in a non-combat accident while at the Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan on March 11. There Harper worked as, according to his Facebook page, a “pack mule” while doing “the dirty work…and the heavy lifting.” According to the Department of Defense release about his death, he was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany.
The message boards on WBOY.com and other websites are littered with “thank yous” and condolences to his family. But, a message on one of the WBOY boards tells a sad truth. One poster named “Amazing Young Man” wrote:
I find it hard to accept that these media outlets in this region covered so LITTLE of the life of this fine young man! He went to war, and came back to a country and state that barely remembered his name, let alone what he did for us! PLEASE WBOY do a BETTER JOB!
This trend of little coverage could also be seen in local newspapers. The Times West Virginian, a newspaper based in Fairmont, had nothing but Harper’s obituary. The Dominion Post, Morgantown’s local newspaper, had very little, as did the Clarksburg based Exponent Telegram. Even here on hornface.com, little was found. All that could be found here was a copy and paste from the DoD release. That release was only three sentences.
The smaller Grafton newspaper The Mountain Statesman had better coverage of the funeral than the larger newspapers in the area cared to carry.
Harper was buried on March 22 at the West Virginia National Cemetery in Pruntytown. He was escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders, a group formed to protect families from hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church who protest such funerals. Harper’s remains were escorted from the airport to the funeral home and from the funeral home to the cemetery upon Harper’s family’s request by the Riders. Over 200 people attended his funeral, and there were no reports found of any protesters at the funeral service.
For an updated list of combat casualties from both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, visit iCasualties, a site filled with data about the men and women killed or wounded in service to the United States.
Here is a list of servicemen who have died since PFC Harper’s death on March 11, 2011:
- Sgt. 1st Class Dae Han Park, 36, of Watertown, Conn. – March 12
- Pfc. Arturo E. Rodriguez, 19, of Bellflower, Calif. – March 12
- Staff Sgt. Travis M. Tompkins, 31, of Lawton, Okla. – March 16
- Lance Cpl. Christopher S. Meis, 20, of Bennett, Colo. – March 17
- Staff Sgt. Mecolus C. McDaniel, 33, of Fort Hood, Texas – March 19
- Cpl. Donald R. Mickler Jr., 29, of Bucyrus, Ohio – March 19
- Pfc. Rudy A. Acosta, 19, of Canyon Country, Calif. – March 19
- Staff Sgt. James M. Malachowski, 25, of Westminster, Md. – March 20