War in Iraq Hits Home

Because I am a UGA alum, I get an alumni magazine with some regularity. I couldn’t tell you how often it arrives. It comes to my parents’ house. I admit I don’t read it closely. It most often seems to be a showcase for big donors to the university to see their names in print. I do, however, check out the section in the back — it’s called Class Notes. It tells about people having babies and getting married. I always scan those columns looking for news of college friends. I have never found any. Not until today, that is. It wasn’t in the place I expected. It was in the obituaries. I never look at those. No need, right? I’m only 33. My college friends are still fairly young. For some reason I looked today.

You know how when you hear or read something really unexpected, you draw in your breath sharply. It’s just. Well. They call it shock. And I guess that’s an accurate term for what I felt. Because it said, right there in black and white, that Gregory Goodrich (AB ’93, MEd ’97) of Bartonville, Wisconsin, had died on April 9.

It’s weird. I just referred to him, rather obliquely, the other day:

I guess it boils down to this: I am 33. I’m not 19. In the last five years or so, with so many works of literature under my belt, my analysis skills seem to be much sharper. Age and maturity have taught me what to pull out of a book. It’s funny, because when I was 25, I was having a conversation with a classmate (I was a senior in college after quitting for three years when Sarah was born, then going back). This classmate was 30. I remarked at some point upon how well-read he was. He said, in what I thought at the time was a very exasperated tone, “I’m also a lot older than you.” Well, “a lot” is stretching things. But there is definitely something about being over 30 that makes me look at reading and books differently. (entry entitled “Literary Snobbery”)

My first fear upon reading of his death is that he had committed suicide. Frankly, he held a series of jobs that were not commensurate with his intellect or academic background. Perhaps he was, as it seems he is somewhat depicted in his obituaries, simply a modern-day Thoreau. I was worried that he felt unsuccessful in life and just… Well, I was wrong. Spc. Greg Goodrich died when his truck convoy was ambushed outside Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

I hope any loved ones that ever come across this writing later are not offended by my first thoughts upon learning of Greg’s death. I was greatly humbled when I discovered the truth. Greg was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal for his bravery — he saved the lives of ten other soldiers before being killed.

Thomas Hamill, who was taken hostage during the same attack, related the following about Greg’s last moments:

…By then we were hardly moving at all, and the gunfire had not stopped. Out of nowhere Army Specialist Gregory Goodrich ran and jumped up next to me on the running board of our truck, wrapped his left arm around the mirror and yelled, “We have got to drop this trailer.” …

I looked over Specialist Goodrich’s shoulder toward the buildings; all I could see were AK-47s sticking out around the corners. I didn’t see a soul, just all those guns stuck out and firing, I felt at any minute the brave soldier would be cut down.

He was just standing up on the running board and had absolutely no protection. He was shot in the arm but kept firing away and trying to hold on. A couple of times he grabbed another clip, bumped it, and slammed it in his M-16. He was sweeping his gun back and forth and firing, not really picking his targets. He realized he needed a better rest, a better support for his rifle. He swung around and climbed onto the hood of the truck to fire from a prone position. Using it as a rest, he continued firing at anything that moved…

We had no more choices. We had to bale [sic]. Right then a Humvee pulled around in front of us at about 100 feet and stopped. Then Specialist Goodrich rolled off the hood of our truck and fell to the ground, picked himself up, and ran for the Humvee…

Months later I learned that Specialist Gregory Goodrich, the soldier who defended my truck, was shot and killed a few minutes after he dove into the Humvee that rescued my driver.

His obituaries describe him as a loner, an avid reader, an environmentalist, a patriot. This sounds like the Greg I knew when we were pursuing our respective degrees in English Education (mine a bachelor’s, his a master’s). We worked through the same program. I recall sitting with him in UGA’s august libary and showing him how to find NPR’s web site on the Internet. We worked together on a project for class, which, if I recall, was why we were at the library in the first place. On the day we all took our TCT (Teacher Candidate Test) to get our certification, we went out to Applebee’s for celebratory drinks. Greg bought us all a bottle of champagne. We exchanged pleasant e-mails during the course of our studies together. We lost touch immediately after graduation. We were not close friends, but we went out together with others from our class. We had lots of conversations about books — he was animated as he described his appreciation for Joseph Campbell’s work. He was a really good guy. He was very upbeat, very cheerful. I remember he dressed like a male English teacher, if that makes sense — blazer with patches on the elbows, pleated Dockers, oxford shirts. Actually, I have always thought he resembled Steve Burns from Blue’s Clues. Like I said about him previously, he was just so well-read. He had simply read everything. I felt really inadequate when we talked books.

And now. God, now I feel really inadequate to the task of saying anything about Greg. About the sacrifice he made for his country, his fellow soldiers… for all of us. I never realized he was in the Reserves. Or, if he wasn’t at the time I knew him, then it didn’t seem like something I could picture him doing.

My mom said when she was young and Vietnam was raging, she remembers it seemed like everyone was touched by it somehow. She knew boys who died. She didn’t lose anyone close to her personally. She never said outright, but she alluded to the fact that she lost people like Greg — guys she had known, if not intimately, well, then, at least well enough to call a friend. I’d like to think for the time Greg and I knew each other we were friends. I know that I cried when I found out how he died. I also know tears have come to my eyes several times as I wrote this.

Greg died in April — I know… I said that earlier. But I just found out today. I guess I didn’t hear about Greg’s death because he wasn’t native to the Atlanta area. At this point in the war, only Atlanta deaths are reported on the news. And frankly, I wasn’t aware he was involved, so I wasn’t watching for it. His father lives in Macon, so it stands to reason my parents might have heard. They wouldn’t have known we were friends, and they would have dismissed him as one more casualty — if a local one. Greg and I shared the same high school alma mater (where I taught for a time) — Warner Robins High School. Now, seven months have passed, and I might never have known except for a blurb in the alumni magazine that caused me to search Google to see what I could learn about his death.

I am stunned in the face of his bravery. I extend my sympathies to his family. And Greg, rest in peace. Thank you. You are not forgotten. You are not one more casualty. And if I have taken a moment to think about anything in the last couple of hours since I found out, it is that none of our fallen soldiers are “one more casualty” — they’re people like you, Greg. And somehow, now I feel like I need to apologize for so much of my thinking.

Please read more about Greg:

Clever adventurer was “student of life”
Illinois soldier remembered as a loner who loved his country
Former WR [Warner Robins] man dies in Iraq ambush
Thomas Hamill On His Iraq Escape
Friends say reservist valued peace
Memorial Day events in midstate honor soldiers

3 thoughts on “War in Iraq Hits Home

  1. I'm so sorry about Greg. What a blow. *hugs*

    Thanks for the advice on moving. We won't be ready to move again until summer 2006. I was thinking Chattanooga only because it's closer to family (mine's in Chattanooga and Scott's is an hour and a half north in Knoxville). Atlanta has always been my first choice (even when we moved here, it was only because I couldn't find a teaching job in the areas of Atlanta closest to Druid Hills, the neighborhood I wanted to live in).

    I had no idea Chattanooga didn't have much of an orthodox population, even though my mother sort of said so. You know. You don't always believe your mother. haha Not like she's orthodox or anything– she's basically reform (but converted conservative years ago).

    Decisions decision.

  2. What a strange coincidence. Hmmm, it certainly gives one something to think about. It reinforces the thought that one only has now, not tomorrow or yesterday. And as the war drags on in Iraq, it serves as a reminder of the people defending our country.

  3. Dana, what a beautifully moving entry. I admit, it's brought tears to my own eyes. I guess it's the underlying fact that everyone we encounter in this life has some impact on our lives, and who we are and who we become in the end. Mitch Albom's "The Five People You Meet in Heave" touches on this a bit and while I found it a bit trite, it makes the human connection between us all that more important, all that more precious.

    I find it interesting that you should have written of him so recently and then to only days later read of his death. I believe everything happens for a reason, and that there are "signs" in everything. Perhaps it is only in his death that he was able to convey the connection between the two of you – why else would that memory cause you to write of him when you did?

    We mean things to people that we are never capable of knowing – big things, little things, but always somehow important.

    I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing it so openly and honestly, though. Greg's life and death have now touched a lot more people as a result.

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