Poetry and lore speak of a mother’s grief, a mother’s tears for a deceased child. So perhaps the spotlight was bound to be captured by Cindy Sheehan after her soldier-son’s death in 2004.
For Pat Sheehan, the very private role of simply continuing to be Casey’s father has been enough — until recently, that is. In a blip of publicity, Cindy Sheehan bowed out of her diminishing limelight, announcing that she would stop her activism against the Iraq war. In doing so, she declared that Casey Sheehan “did indeed die for nothing.”
That statement ended Pat Sheehan’s silence.
He called me after reading a column in which I disputed his ex-wife’s assertion. Yes, he told me, Casey Sheehan’s death mattered. We continued talking and e-mailing, and he made me realize what should have been so obvious — that a soldier’s life is what is significant, not his death or the activism it might inspire.
One problematic aspect of Cindy Sheehan’s celebrity has been that her deceased son got lost in the news coverage. Nobody knows much about how Casey Sheehan lived or how he died.
Sanchez hits the nail right on the head. As she points out, Casey Sheehan was a selfless hero with a steadfast faith...something that got lost as his mother Cindy was on her rock star tour:
Pat Sheehan is pained that people know so little about the religious devotion of his son. Casey Sheehan so loved his Catholic faith that he considered the priesthood, before realizing how much he wanted to have children. As a child, he would pull a nightstand from against the wall, cover it with a blanket and “play” Mass, enlisting his sister to be a nun.
As a teen, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Later he would say that the military was “kind of like Boy Scouts, but with guns.” Casey Sheehan signed up before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His service had nothing to do with revenge, his father says.
Rather, it was a way to practice his faith. Casey Sheehan wanted to be a chaplain’s assistant. Faced with a wait to become one, he chose to be a wheel mechanic instead. As a soldier, he was always the first to greet a visiting priest. If no priest came to say Mass, he would lead a prayer.
Pat Sheehan has only recently learned the details of his son’s death from Martha Raddatz, author of The Long Road Home, a book about the Sadr City uprising.
Sadr City, Iraq. April 4, 2004. A platoon of soldiers was ambushed by sniper fire, trapped in an alley when their Humvees broke down. Army Spc. Casey Sheehan was among the men who volunteered for the rescue of the dead.
Actually, he pulled rank, taking the place of a private.The convoy was fighting its way through more sniper fire when a high-velocity bullet pierced Casey Sheehan’s Kevlar helmet and ricocheted against his head. He was put on a helicopter; doctors desperately tried to save his life. A rosary was in his pocket.
Casey Sheehan was one of eight soldiers who died that day.
Pat Sheehan does not agree with the war that took his son's life. But instead of using his son's death as a platform to protest the war, he took a more dignified approach and is choosing to honor Casey's life. And despite the painful divorce, he refrains from taking a swipe at Cindy:
Pat Sheehan disagrees with his ex-wife’s tactics, but he does not wish to be pitted against her. Philosophically, they are close on their views on the war. “But I would rather that Casey be viewed with dignity,” he told me.
In an e-mail, Pat Sheehan wrote: “I haven’t quite found my voice yet as Casey’s father, but make no mistake, I feel much of the same pain and sense of loss that his Mother does. I have chosen to deal with it in my own way. For all of my children, Casey, Carly, Andy and Jane, I am attempting to move forward with a little grace and dignity. They deserve nothing less.”