On the eve of Jackson's memorial, around 11 p.m., as thousands of fans encircled the Staples Center, two soldiers arrived at the home of Felicia Williams near Chicago. They brought news that every military spouse fears when her husband is deployed.
Her husband, 1st Lt. Derwin Williams, had been deployed with the Illinois National Guard to Afghanistan since last August and he was conducting a vehicle patrol along the dusty roads of the Kunduz Province, north of Kabul, when an IED exploded, killing him and three other soldiers.
Williams, 41, left behind a wife and three children.
In the days following his death, his family remembered him as a loving husband and dedicated father. As a civilian, he worked as a drill instructor for the Cook County Boot Camp, a correctional program for young felons. His colleagues at the Boot Camp remembered him as a kind and understanding employee, willing to go the extra mile to help others. And he was a dedicated soldier, often professing his enthusiasm for serving in the National Guard.
His death came in the midst of a major coalition offensive aimed at pushing back a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. In late June and early July, shortly after the offensive began, more than 20 soldiers, sailors, and Marines had been killed in Afghanistan, and yet their sacrifices and their families' loss were largely ignored by the national media venues that were dedicating continuous attention to Jackson's death.
On Tuesday, July 7, as the Staples Center was packed with Jackson mourners, Williams' family flew to Dover Air Force Base to meet his body upon its arrival. The casket and the flag-draped caskets of five other soldiers and one sailor recently killed in Afghanistan arrived that Wednesday. The attention from the national media of this solemn event was, at best, sparse.
Michael Jackson was unquestionably a legendary entertainer whose death deserved much attention, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still deserve tremendous focus and attention by those who bring us news, even though many are wary of hearing about and reporting on the aging conflicts.
During the frenzy following Jackson's death, one mourner labeled the entertainer's passing as the single most important event our younger generation has witnessed. That generation, though young, did witness the attacks on Sept. 11, and the loss of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians. It was an event that spawned a war in Afghanistan some eight years old now, and one that has since claimed the lives of hundreds of American servicemen and women who were loving sons and daughters, parents, spouses, and colleagues just like 1st Lt. Derwin Williams.
In a media environment that increasingly portrays tabloid stories as mainstream news, I hope there is still room to remember and honor our fallen heroes.
Editor's note: Brad Jones, a former Marine captain and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is a budget analyst for a clinical research organization that works with late phase pharmaceutical studies. He currently resides in Mount Sterling with his wife and daughter.