Kevin Ferris from the Philly Inquirer.
John Wroblewski's son was killed in Ramadi in 2004. Now, he says, the U.S. should focus on winning the war.
By Kevin Ferris
Marine 2d Lt. John Thomas Wroblewski (center), photographed in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on April 5, 2004. He was killed in an ambush the next day.
John Wroblewski suggests Congress stop all the talk about leaving Iraq in 60 days, or 90 days, or 120 days.
Instead, what the country needs, he says, is "more discussion about victory and how we're going to win."
What he seeks is leadership. Courage, to stand up to a relentless, smart and brutal enemy. Patience, to see the nation through the inevitable dark days. Strength, to set priorities and see them through.
Wroblewski sees these characteristics in those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, young men and women he considers heroes. Is it too much to ask the same of those who sent those troops into combat?
The high school athletic director from Jefferson Township, N.J., is unapologetic in his support for the war and those fighting it - "You can't separate the troops and the mission," he says.
Often, he says, the news out of Washington makes you "grit your teeth." Worse are declarations that the war is lost.
"When [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid said that, it just turned my stomach," Wroblewski says.
"How can a leader of this country, when we have men on the battlefield, and we've shed the blood of our sons and daughters, how can he say we've lost?" he asks.
So Wroblewski speaks out. He calls in frequently to talk-radio programs. He campaigned against antiwar congressman John P. Murtha (D., Pa.) last year. He and his wife, Shawn, were among the counterprotesters facing off against Cindy Sheehan two years ago near President Bush's ranch. He's told the president to his face - twice - how important it is that the United States complete the mission in Iraq.
The Wroblewskis understand the cost of war.
The oldest of their four sons, Marine 2d Lt. John Thomas Wroblewski - "JT" to his family, "Lt. Ski" to his men - was killed in a Ramadi ambush on April 6, 2004. He'd enlisted only weeks after Sept. 11 and had been in Iraq for a little more than a month when he was shot.
"He just loved being in the Marines," his mom says. "Even if he could come back now and stand in front of us, knowing all the heartache, he'd say: 'Suck it up. I'm doing it again.' "
It was a running joke between them. If he caught her crying over a TV show, he'd roll his eyes and say: "Mom, come on, suck it up."
Even with all that heartache, the Wroblewskis are resolute about finishing the job.
"Do people really think that if we pull out, the terrorists will say: 'We're going to leave you alone now,'?" John asks.
He was encouraged by this week's New York Times commentary "A War We Just Might Win," by two Brookings Institution scholars, Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack, who have been critical of the conduct of the war. Wroblewski hopes the article helps others see what he's always believed: U.S. forces are making a positive difference on the ground and can win this war.
Wroblewski saw the troops in action when he traveled to Iraq earlier this year. He had hoped to see the Ramadi street where his son was fatally wounded. On that spot, he wanted to place a stone from the family's yard and a New Jersey quarter. Though he never made it into the city, he passed the stone to a journalist who, in turn, gave it to a chaplain. The Wroblewskis later learned that the stone sits on the windowsill of a government building near where JT was hit.
While in Iraq, Wroblewski was impressed by the morale of the troops he met, even many who recently had their deployments extended.
"They were disappointed," Wroblewski says, "but still believed that they had to get the job done."
Those troops and others, especially the Marines who served under JT and stay in touch with his family, inspire the Wroblewskis. Other families of the fallen sustain them.
And, in one place, they have found the wartime leadership the times demand: the White House. They have met the president three times, twice with other families and, on June 12, privately. When Bush said there were others there they should meet, Shawn was sure (hoping, actually) he meant Laura Bush, but she had to settle for the vice president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Though the settings for these meetings are grand, intimacy comes quickly, as family memories are shared, tears are shed, and hugs freely given. The determination to finish the mission that JT and others have died for is made clear.
Many do not share that determination. But the Wroblewskis are hopeful - that Congress can show the patience that John witnessed in Iraq, the strength the family felt in the Oval Office, and the courage that comes with every memory of their son.