Honor And Duty For His Fallen Son

Honor And Duty For His Fallen Son
April 26th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Honor And Duty For His Fallen Son

Honor And Duty For His Fallen Son
Los Angeles Times
April 26, 2008
Pg. 1
Column One
Richard Dvorin is working the night shift, answering a hotline for those who have felt war's pain -- a pain he feels deeply every day.
By Erika Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
East Brunswick, N.J.--A pot of coffee brews inside the one-story home on Seth Dvorin Lane, as the father of a dead American soldier salutes his son's picture, and sets out to keep his memory alive another day.
His one-level weathered home sits on a street named after Army 2nd Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, killed by a roadside bomb near Iskandariyah, Iraq, on Feb. 3, 2004. Seth liked playing basketball, traveling to places like Europe and Israel, flying remote-controlled helicopters and driving Mustang cars, says his father, Richard Dvorin, a refrigerator of a man, before he breaks into tears for the fifth time this afternoon.
Dvorin, 65, knows his son's story sounds like one you've heard before. He knows you probably don't care to read about another dead soldier.
He wants you to pay attention anyway.
"People are becoming callous toward the war," he says. "There are things more important today, like the presidential race. . . . Whether we lose the first soldier in the battle or the last soldier in the battle, that soldier is important to all of America."
Seth was somewhere between the 526th and 529th soldier killed in Iraq, Dvorin believes. When the 4,000th soldier killed in Iraq became a milestone last month, Dvorin wept watching the 24-hour news coverage. He knows the deaths of most U.S. soldiers slip by without widespread attention. Since then, about 50 more have been killed in Iraq.
The floor creaks as Dvorin moves across his rust-colored carpet, past stacks of model airplane and train manuals, and a copy of prisoner of war Jessica Lynch's autobiography that his girlfriend bought on sale. On the kitchen table, there is a newspaper brief about a soldier from Holmdel, N.J., killed March 22 in Afghanistan.
Dvorin fills a thermos with coffee and packs it into his duffel bag. He is headed to the night shift at a hotline for soldiers and their families from New Jersey. Three days a week, he fields calls from people dealing with post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, financial problems, death. In three years, it has received more than 5,000 calls.
(A support hotline operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has fielded more than 37,000 calls since it started last August.)
"I know what other families are going to go through; I know the sorrow," Dvorin says.
"I know probably every parent that views their child in the casket will say to that child, 'It should have been me and not you.' "
As Dvorin speaks, Barack Obama flashes across his big-screen television. He's on CNN talking at a campaign event in Greensboro, N.C. For half an hour, Obama answers questions about poverty, immigration, labor, Social Security, religion, the economy.
No one asks the Democratic presidential candidate about the war.
Polls show that interest is waning. Between August and February, public awareness of the number of American military fatalities in Iraq declined, according to a report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
At the same time, news stories devoted to the war dropped from an average of 15% of the news hole in July to just 3% in February, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Dvorin doesn't need statistics to confirm what he already knows. After the five-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq recently came and went, he watched tributes sputter out of the news cycle again.
The television is off now, the room quiet. The flag that draped Seth's coffin rests folded in a wooden box on the coffee table, next to his military medals and a dried rose from the funeral.
"Seth was more than a son to me," Dvorin says. He draws his breath and cries again. "He was my friend; he was my confidant; he was my idol. I lost a lot."
Dvorin wipes his tears, puts on his jacket and climbs into his gray van, its rear painted with Seth's name.
"I know that's what he would want me to do -- continue helping people," he says.
"So I do."
The call center is buzzing when Dvorin sits down at his cubicle, tilts a framed photo of Seth toward himself, and turns on his computer. He has an important number to dial today.
A week earlier, he went to a soldier's funeral. He tries to attend as many local services for soldiers as he can, and he usually stays anonymous. But this time he offered his condolences to the family and told them about the hotline. A few days later, the mother called.
Her husband "was just starting to lose it," Dvorin says. He spent two hours talking to her, staying calm and focused.
"Everybody in the office was there, and ready to jump on the call just in case I broke," Dvorin says. "But I handled myself well."
Dvorin arranged for the couple to receive counseling, and a therapist got in touch with them that day. Tonight, Dvorin pulls their file up on his screen and dials the number, reaching the mother.
"Rich Dvorin speaking, how are you today? All right, how is everything going? Did you meet with the doctor?"
"OK," he continues. "Very good. . . . Just keep going to the doctor. It helps -- even though you don't think it does, it helps.
"I will call you in a week or so. Stay well. Stay safe," he says, before hanging up.
"When I put the phone down, I've done the best I can; I've honored my son," Dvorin says. "That's my mourning."
Dvorin has never seen a counselor for his depression. Staffers at the call center have become his support network, and talking others through their problems, he said, is enough to help him get by.
There isn't a day that goes by that he doesn't think about Feb. 3, 2004. He remembers how he tossed and turned that night, waking up at 4:30 a.m. He made coffee and listened for the thump of the newspaper at his front porch. He turned on CNN and saw a banner gliding across the bottom of the screen announcing that a serviceman had been killed and another wounded in a roadside explosion five miles south of Baghdad.
"I knew that was where Seth was. All night long I had been thinking of Seth," he says.
He tried to keep his mind off the worry, cleaning his house, dusting shelves. About 6 p.m., Dvorin received a call from Seth's mother-in-law, followed by a call from Seth's mother: His son had been killed.
Two days later, Dvorin scribbled an angry letter to President Bush. "His life has been snuffed out in a meaningless war," he wrote. "Where are all the weapons of mass destruction? Where are the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons?"
Dvorin had not spent much time with Seth or Seth's half-brother Josh when they were growing up. He blames bitter relationships with both mothers, which made visitations tense, and few and far between.
In March, Josh, 19, moved in with his father. "We're getting to know each other," says Dvorin, who never expected to spend his retirement years working and taking care of his second son. He lost time with Seth and hopes it is not too late to nurture Josh.
Dvorin treasures the time he and Seth eventually spent bonding, but, he says, it ended too soon. When Seth went to college at Rutgers University, near Dvorin's home, the two grew close, spending weekends together. Father and son talked of raising horses together in Texas.
Seth graduated in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in administrative justice. Facing a tight job market after the 2001 terrorist attacks, he decided to join the Army. Five days before leaving for Iraq, Seth married his high school sweetheart.
Dvorin built a model helicopter for Seth, and had planned to give it to him when he returned home.
Seth's mother, Sue Niederer, coped with his death with activism. Seven months after he was killed, Niederer wore a T-shirt that read "President Bush, You Killed My Son" to a speech by Laura Bush, interrupting her to ask when her children were going to serve. She teamed up with another mother, Cindy Sheehan, who gained international fame by camping outside Bush's Texas ranch to demonstrate against the war after her son was killed.
Dvorin felt angry too, but he didn't take part in protests. He couldn't bring himself to tinker with his model planes or trains anymore, and he couldn't bear to look at Seth's helicopter. A retired New Brunswick cop, Dvorin had encountered violence and death, but the only time he remembers crying was when his father passed away. Now, he cries at least twice a day.
In 2005, a notice about a support hotline, Cop to Cop, arrived in his mail. It was started a decade ago to help cut the high rate of suicide among New Jersey police officers. The program recruits law enforcement officials to field calls. Dvorin signed up to volunteer.
He soon learned that the organizers had launched another hotline, called Vet to Vet, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. It began as a support network for veterans, in response to the growing number of suicides among U.S. troops, offering help to soldiers coming home with emotional problems.
In 2006, there were 102 military suicides, compared with 87 in 2005. So far 89 suicides have been confirmed in 2007, with 32 other active-duty deaths under investigation, according to U.S. military statistics. There has also been a rise in suicide attempts, with more than 2,000 in 2007, compared with about 1,400 the year before, and 350 in 2002.
Dvorin, who had served in the Air Force, decided to volunteer for the veterans hotline too. The call center has been busier in recent months because New Jersey is preparing to deploy 4,000 troops in June -- the largest number since the war began, according to Stephen G. Abel of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. About a third have already served in the war at least once, he said.
Dvorin scans a list of callback numbers. Each entry includes the caller's background: "Death of son. Disability. Possible PTSD."
He dials the number of a veteran's wife he spoke to before. The couple have had marital problems since the husband came home from the war.
"I called to find out how you're doing," Dvorin says. "I noticed you're going to try another counselor. Did you try anyone else yet?"
He offers to help them find another counselor, and says he will check in again soon.
His next callback is to a soldier who is looking for information about a local war memorial ceremony. Dvorin searches the Internet for the location.
Once, a father of a dead soldier called, upset that his son's name had been misspelled on a memorial. The mistake had plunged the father into despair again. Dvorin helped him submit paperwork to correct the error. He knew how the man felt. After Seth died, people wrote about him online, but failed to mention that he had a home in East Brunswick. Dvorin contacted every website that made the mistake, asking for a correction.
"Every time I help somebody, it's like putting another gold star on my son's shoulder," says Dvorin, who was recently hired as a paid employee.
The heater hums inside Dvorin's van on a frigid, gusty Saturday morning. Dressed in a navy blazer and red tie, he fumbles with the MapQuest directions as he heads to the funeral of Holmdel Staff Sgt. William R. Neil Jr., the obituary stapled to the map.
Neil, like Seth Dvorin, was killed by a roadside bomb. Neil was 38, and gave up a career on Wall Street for the Army, according to the article. That is as much as Dvorin knows.
Next to the passenger seat lies a local newspaper article featuring a photo of Niederer with a microphone at a war protest at Rutgers University in New Brunswick two days earlier.
Dvorin pulls up to St. Catherine's Church in Holmdel. Police cars line its front, their lights swirling. The scene reminds Dvorin of Seth's funeral. His police colleagues had sent 60 officers to handle traffic control, and the funeral procession stretched nearly two miles.
Dvorin puts on his Jewish War Veterans cap, embroidered with Seth's name and decorated with Seth's military pins. Inside the church, uniformed servicemen fill the pews and stand with hands behind their backs. Dvorin takes a seat in the last row.
One of Neil's comrades speaks: "His family shared in the courage and strength of the man they loved," he says. "Now they must face their grief and life without him. The sorrow is lonely. They are not alone."
The service ends with the family slowly following the casket out the door. Tears stream down Dvorin's face. Outside, bagpipes play as pallbearers load the casket into a hearse.
On his way home, Dvorin stops at Marlboro Cemetery in Monmouth County, to visit Seth's grave. "I'll be buried right here," he says, pointing to a patch of ground at the foot of the grave. A few steps away rests a man killed in the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Dvorin picks up a stone and places it on Seth's grave. He kisses the headstone, and reads the epitaph for the hundredth or so time: "Loving son, brother, husband and friend, died while bravely serving his country. His zest for life, for love, and sacrifice will not be forgotten."