Next of Kin
The answers to big questions begin with simply listening

My father never liked to talk about the war. Nonetheless, we somehow found out that he fought in the Pacific Theater, that he was in the Army Air Corp, that he saw combat. We knew from photos he kept in a shoebox, high on a shelf, that he looked impossibly young in 1943, and that when the camera was pointed his way, he tended to squint, just a little, and that he seemed fit and trim and ready for anything. We knew that he came home without visible wounds, and we knew, somehow, without him saying a word, that not all of his buddies made it. He’s been gone a long time now — over 15 years — and I still find myself wishing I’d found out more about his time “over there.” It shaped him, I think, in a fundamental way, and perhaps made him the man he was.

He was a stickler for good grammar, loved words and ideas above all else, and immersed himself in academia for his entire career. For the most part, his experiences in WWII remained private. When he died, I found myself sifting through that stack of photos, wishing I’d asked more questions, listened more closely, learned more details, no matter how hard they may have been to hear.

A few weeks ago, I had a call to make, and I was hesitant to pick up the phone. But when I reached Jackie Kennedy, she was so delighted to talk to me that I was glad I’d called. “I love for people to talk about Joshua,” she said. Her son, Platoon Commander Joshua Palmer ’01, had been killed in Fallujah, Iraq in the spring of 2004. When I explained that the next USD Magazine would be a theme issue focusing on war and peace, she was delighted to talk about her son’s ultimate sacrifice.

She told me not just about the day he died, when he and his troops had cornered a sniper that had been firing upon another platoon, but about his love of children, and how he’d shared many a meal with Iraqi families, and that he’d been awarded a posthumous Bronze Star. She sent me a photo of a smiling Palmer on a dusty Iraqi street, surrounded by more than a dozen smiling kids. She wrote on the back, “We think that this is the last picture Joshua was in. He loved the children. He loved to see them smile.” She also sent me a thank-you note, which seems backwards, somehow.

When I first decided to focus much of an entire issue on war and peace, I had no idea how deeply it would affect my own life. I didn’t know I’d wind up in a courtroom at MCRD listening to soldiers describe one of the most terrible days of their lives. I had no idea that I’d wake up in the middle of the night worrying about USD alumnus Joseph Ghougassian. While I’d known about the good work going on at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, I hadn’t been aware of just how hands-on our peace-builders are and how they put themselves at risk time and again.

I didn’t know a whole lot of things. I know now.

— Julene Snyder, Editor