This April 8, 2004, photo, which depicts Marines at Fallujah, Iraq, praying over their fallen commander, 1st Lt. Joshua Palmer, recently earned AP a Pulitzer Prize. Friday will be the first anniversary of Palmer's heroic death. I was so moved when I read about his uncommon bravery that I included the photo in my 2004 Veteran's Day salute.
I would like to think that the Pulitzer Prize committee is honoring 1st Lt. Palmer, if only indirectly, at least as much as the photographers who also served in harm's way. Palmer's girlfriend, Laura, delivered the following remarks at his memorial service:
Joshua Michael Palmer was born on Nov. 28th, 1978. He loved to read, he’s read more books than most people have heard of. He particularly loved history and politics. He also played football in High School. He had a very close group of friends while growing up, called the Banning Boys. They were like brothers. In High School, he was known as a leader. He was the guy who always knew what to do, in any situation. While in High School, he went on a trip with his friends to Mexico, and saw the children selling Chiclets gum on the streets. He saw the corruption of the government, and vowed that he would never let that sort of corruption ruin the lives of his children, or the children of America. That’s when he decided to join the Marine Corps., to protect America from that sort of life. He began attending ‘Poolies” meetings right away (because he wasn’t old enough to join) and he practiced with the marines each weekend. He was the only soldier in the history of that unit to be promoted before actually being a marine. When they found out that he wasn’t actually a marine, because he wasn’t old enough, they couldn’t believe it. He got special permission to join when he was 17, but his mom had to sign waiver. Josh joined with two of his best friends, John Thompson and Ryan Hansen. He had one brother, and a mother and father. His parents divorced when he was in the 7th grade, and it had a lasting impact on his life. His family never really understood him. They thought that he was too determined, always trying to be better and do more. He tried to explain to them that he wanted to be someone in the world; that he wanted to do something important, to help people; but they never really understood.
Josh hated Communism. He saw what it had done to the people of the world. Once, a professor in college told the class that he thought Communism was the best way to live, that we ought to share everything, all of our money, and that doctors ought to be paid the same as gardeners. Josh stood up and asked the teacher to give his paycheck to the gardener, who was working outside. The professor was stunned for a minute, so Josh continued. He said “If it’s so great, why don’t you start? Sign over a check, right now”. The professor had never been confronted this way before. Josh always, always stood up for what he believed in. That is one thing that all of his friends have vowed to do, in memory of him, because it was so important to him that people live by their words and stand up for their beliefs. On anther occasion, this same professor began talking about the Holocaust. Josh calmly walked to the front of the class, and wrote 10,000,000 + on the board, the number of people killed by Communism. He turned to the class and said “The Nazis killed 6 million Jews. Communism has killed many more people, of all religions. Yet our professor will talk to you about how evil the Nazis were, but not tell you how evil Communism is.” Then he sat down. He was also known for his knowledge about Chinese history. His professor of Chinese History often asked him to lecture in the class. Why had he studied Chinese history so much? For the same reason he went to Mexico. He hated the corruption that had destroyed its future, and he was working on a way to try and help. He went to China to learn the language, and had plans to go back with a political group. Josh believed that, as humans, it is our responsibility to care for the people on our earth, and to help each other out, by the most effective means. Not just giving them money, but actually helping.
Josh also believed that it is a person’s responsibility to become educated. He said that we shouldn’t rely on others to do it, like the schools. It is our responsibility, and we have to do it for ourselves. That’s why he read so much. He wanted to know things, so that he could help. When he was 7, he and his mother were driving by a soccer field and he said “Look at all those parents who are allowing their kids to play soccer. Don’t they know it’s destroying their brains?” (He thought that having the ball hit their head would do brain damage over time. Even as a kid, he though it was important to develop our minds.)
He was so proud to go to Iraq. The same as when he had vowed to help the Mexican children, and the Chinese children, he felt that he could now help the Iraqi children. The week before Josh was killed, he had requested special permission to stay another year in Iraq. He didn’t want to leave until the work was done. He loved the kids there. He wrote home, asking for candy and toys, because he loved giving it to the kids and watching them smile. Every night, he ate dinner with Iraqi families. He loved them, and they loved him. He believed in what we are doing there. He told my cousin Laura that he wanted these children to have the chance to grow up with democracy, the way he did, so that they would have an honest chance of making their lives better. “Josh was exceptionally passionate about service to his country” was the way that one of his best friends, Ryan Hansen described him. Josh had a deep seated belief that the military had a benevolent purpose in the development of countries. One of his favorite books, Starship Troopers, talks about the military’s role in society. Dominic, when asked to describe why Josh had joined the Marine Corps., said, “He was a great student of history and he thought that it was warriors that make countries strong and prosperous.”
On April 8th, in the afternoon, Josh’s convoy began taking sniper fire as they entered Fallujah. Josh was a first lieutenant, and led a group of men. Some of the men in the convoy, from another lieutenant’s unit, were injured by the sniper fire. It was determined that someone needed to hunt down the snipers and kill them, before they killed any of the men in the convoy. Josh had been trained in sniper hunting, and volunteered. He led a small group of men into the area where the snipers were. They pinpointed the snipers’ location and ran to the building were the snipers were located. Josh didn’t hesitate, he just ran. When they got there, they began clearing rooms with grenades. When they got to the room where the snipers were, Josh insisted on being in front. Usually officers stay in the back, because their lives are considered more valuable. But Josh had always said that he would never send his men somewhere he wouldn’t go himself, and the test of a true leader was whether or not he led from the front. It was known that there was a very high chance that the person in front would be shot, as they were so close to the snipers, and the snipers were waiting for them. Josh still went in front. He probably knew that he was going to be shot, but he wouldn’t allow someone else to die when he could have prevented it. So he leaned forward and threw the grenade. As he did, he fell a little bit forward, and was shot many times all up his left side and into his neck. Immediately his men pulled him back, and killed the sniper who had shot Josh, the other two snipers were taken prisoner. They pulled Josh to a safe location, where he eventually bled to death. The photo I have, which many of you have seen in the papers, is of Josh’s men praying over him, just after he died.