Some people call the magical light that emanates from helicopter rotor blades that are changing pitch at night in the desert “fairy dust.” Others call it “St. Elmo’s Fire.” War correspondent Michael Yon called it the “Kopp-Etchells Effect,” for two soldiers that died in the battleground of Afghanistan — Benjamin Kopp and Joseph Etchells.
Corporal Benjamin Kopp was shot in 2009 during a battle in Afghanistan and died of his wounds just over a week later. He was 21. He’d had already served for three tours and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Because he had put himself down as an organ donor, his heart was quickly transplanted into a 57-year-old Illinois woman named Judy Meikle, who told The Washington Post, “How can you have a better heart? I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me.” Other organs went to other recipients.
Joseph Etchells was also a corporal, but in a different army. He was a fusilier in a British regiment, also assigned to Helmand Province. He was 22 and died the same week as Benjamin Kopp. This was also his third tour of duty, and he was killed by a roadside bomb.
Photographer Michael Yon attended his battlefield funeral, a small affair where fellow soldiers removed the colorful feathers they wear in their caps and tossed them onto the Helmand River, “the same waters where ‘Etch’ used to swim after missions.” At the ceremony, Michael was told that Cpl. Etchells had wanted to be cremated, “then loaded into a firework and launched over the park where he used to play as a kid.” As nutty as it sounds, his friends say that was his choice. I checked the Manchester papers. There was a funeral. Thousands gathered at the church, so many they had to set up speakers for those who couldn’t fit in. But there were no “fireworks” …
Even in war, there is light. Every time I write about something having to do with war and death, I am always reminded of a guy who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, two weeks before he was finished with his tour. I met him working a trade show at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, TX for a military company event. What a cool dude you were, brother.
This one’s for you.
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