Word Smith

A special report from Karl Vick was coming up momentarily, Dateline noted Saturday evening. A telephone interview with Karl followed from Northern Iraq. In an area he later described as “edgy” in a Washington Post article, a car bomb had exploded as Karl and a guide quickly drove from a junction along a busy roadway in the Halabja Valley. Five others were killed by the blast, including a 39-year-old cameraman for the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Karl and I have been friends since working together at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida in the mid-1980s. Later, he was a reporter for the St. Pete Times Washington, D.C., bureau and then went to the Washington Post. He has been living and working in north Africa for about two years and is now on assignment in northern Iraq.

On Tuesday morning, Karl was online live on the Post’s Web site to discuss the unfolding events in Iraq. Visitors to the site could submit questions, as well as view other questions and Karl’s responses.

The dialogue was meaningful, and in some cases, heartbreaking. One woman wrote, “My husband is overseas and naturally I’m scared to death. We aren’t really going to have potentially 3,000 casualties in the next few days, are we?”

Karl responded, “I’m afraid I don’t know, but 3,000 in a few days sounds extraordinarily pessimistic.”

I suppose that was a hint of good news.

As I drafted this column, President Bush was speaking to troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. I’ve been to MacDill many times. Raised in an Air Force family, I lived on Air Force bases most of my life. Seeing military vehicles, uniforms, fighter jets and other aircraft were a part of everyday life. The scars of war were evident on Hickam Air Force Base, which is located just across the bay from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Pockmarked buildings at the airport, damaged by gunfire in the attack, served as a reminder of the harshness of war. Although I did not choose a military career for myself, I respect and appreciate those who have.

Tuesday night, I watched an interview with the parents of Shoshona Johnson, who is a prisoner of war in Iraq. They spoke stoically, yet the pain was apparent. News of any prisoner of war is disconcerting. A female POW seems even more upsetting. It is just not something one expects to hear.

In the days, weeks and possibly months ahead, chances are we will hear and see many things we would not have expected to be faced with a few years ago.

Our managing editor, news editor and I met this week to talk about upcoming editions of the Post Independent. Everything has changed. April Fool’s Day is next Tuesday. Normally, this is an opportunity for us to really let loose and have some fun with the paper. This year, we’ll pass.

Thankfully, I received a reassuring e-mail from Karl after the bombing incident. But I grieve for those killed or injured and worry when I go to sleep at night. And I find I’m still worried when I wake up in the morning.

Yellow ribbons have become our country’s traditional display of hope for a safe homecoming for soldiers. There will be a Support Our Troops rally on Monday, March 31, at noon at the Courthouse Plaza in Glenwood Springs. The Garfield County Clerk’s office will distribute yellow ribbons at the event.

On Wednesday, I purchased a couple of rolls of yellow ribbon from the Glenwood Sewing Center on Grand Avenue. They have quite a few rolls left, if you’re looking.

A couple of us wrapped the ribbon around the big tree in front of our building, creating a bright bow.

It made me feel a little better. But to borrow Karl’s word, I’m still edgy.

Valerie J. Smith is the publisher of the Post Independent.

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