Two ways to influence history: Start a war, or light a candle.
These two stories, as related in communications from Tanya DeGenova of Marblehead, a retired FBI agent currently consulting with the U.S. military in Germany, were sent to me by a mutual friend. In her free time, DeGenova volunteers with the Red Cross at the Landstuhl military hospital where our wounded troops are sent from Iraq. First lady Laura Bush is scheduled to stop there next week, before she joins President Bush in Weisbaden to thank the troops and wish them well as they redeploy.
Earlier this month, DeGenova shared a letter she had received from a close friend now serving in Iraq, who told her how he "got to witness first-hand a new democracy take its first steps.
"The polls opened at 7 a.m.," he noted. "Infantry, armor, attack helicopters, engineers .... you name it, we had it. The Iraqi government shut down all traffic in the country. At about 10 a.m. the streets were packed with large crowds of people walking to the polls.
"Around 3 we dismounted from our vehicles and were instantly mobbed by about 200 kids; they walked with us for about 2 miles while we were talking to the adults. I have never seen anything like it. People everywhere wanted to talk to us and thank us.
"This is what it must have been like when the Allies liberated Paris. Iraqis of all ages wanted to shake our hands and thank us for allowing them to vote. The kids were proud to tell us that their parents voted.
"When the Iraqis voted they dipped their fingers in indelible purple ink so that polling officials could tell who had already voted. When we walked the streets the Iraqis would hold their purple finger up in the air as a mark of pride.
"I shook more hands today then I have ever in my life. If you missed a hand they would follow for a mile to get a chance to shake and say thanks. It was nothing like we expected or have ever seen.
"A suicide car bomber drove up to a polling site, which was not too far from us ... the bomb did not kill anybody but the bomber himself. After the bomb went off the Iraqi voters calmly walked out of the polling site and spit on the remains of the suicide bomber. The polling site stayed open and the voting continued. That incident ran all day long on Iraqi TV. It was a beautiful act of defiance for the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people stood up for themselves today and stuck a purple finger in the enemy's eye.
"Later in the day I thought about our sacrifices that we have made. I wondered if the three men that my unit has sent home in flag-draped coffins was worth what I saw today. I am still not sure ... but when a grown Iraqi man thanks me with tears running down his face, it made me feel better about what we have accomplished."
This week DeGenova wrote again about a Ukrainian soldier with a serious head injury, whom she found at Landstuhl on her volunteer Sunday:
"The man at his bedside tried to explain to me in broken English that his son fought with the coalition forces in Iraq and just came down from ICU where they removed shrapnel from his brain."
They switched to Russian, which DeGenova speaks. She continued: "The father ... explained to me that his wounded son was scheduled to return to Ukraine this coming Tuesday. Papa begged me to intercede somehow with someone at the hospital and have his son either go to the U.S. for further treatments or remain at Landstuhl until his condition is stabilized."
DeGenova wrote that neither the father nor the other Ukrainian soldiers she met had any faith in their medical system, their ability to get veteran status there, or have their government issue them medication upon their return home.
One of the matronly Russian cleaning ladies from Kazakhstan told DeGenova "that she went to church that morning and prayed for the poor guy on the respirator. She said, 'I don't speak English and have no power in this hospital to help him, but I asked God to find someone who could!'"
DeGenova appealed to three Republican senators who were visiting that day, and as a result, Landstuhl decided to keep the soldier until he is cleared by U.S. Homeland Security for transfer to a military hospital in the States.
President Bush is meeting next week with the new Ukrainian president, Viktor Yuschenko, in Belgium. DeGenova was told by the Ukrainian soldiers that their new president doesn't want to join NATO, as he feels the Ukrainian military is in such poor financial state. Perhaps he will hear about this wounded man's treatment and it will ease the meeting.
You never know what will make a difference when history is made: Dramatic support for a first, triumphant election; or a small act of kindness to a young soldier from an allied nation.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.