I’m a guy in my mid-50s, the time of life when going to funerals starts to become a sad, routine part of life.
I’ve been going to funerals, but not of people my age. I’m going to another funeral tomorrow of a young person, an achiever, who died young.
His name’s Brian Backus, or more specifically, Pfc. Brian Backus, U.S. Army.
I got an e-mail from his dad with the subject line “Sad news.” No, it went beyond, far beyond sad. “Sad” doesn’t do it justice.
The boilerplate casualty announcement from the Department of Defense doesn’t tell the story, just as they don’t ever tell the story:
DOD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Pfc. Brian J. Backus, 21, of Saginaw Township, Mich., died June 18, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
For more information, media may contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at 315-772-8286.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
When I met Brian, he was probably 7 years old, a Tiger Cub in Pack 3582, Harbor Beach. I had just become the Scoutmaster of Troop 582 in Harbor Beach, and Brian’s dad was the pack’s Cubmaster and the chairman of the troop committee. Even though my family spent only a couple of years in Harbor Beach, we became close to the Backus family.
Every summer, until the middle part of the decade, we were part of the staff of summer Cub Scout camps at Camp Rotary and Paul Bunyan Scout Reservation. These camps were just magic. Oh, we went by the book, sort of, but the staff made these camps go far beyond the ordinary. They were staffed by adult leaders who were really good at what they did and had fun doing it, and youth staff (our kids) who were bright and creative and destined for achievement.
Brian became president of his class at Harbor Beach High School. He went to the University of Michigan for a while, but ended up joining the Army. He became a medic.
I can’t describe the admiration I have for combat medics and hospital corpsmen, whose job it is to save lives even as the battle rages around them. Courage, sacrifice – those words don’t do justice to what they do, either.
Katherine had maintained the closest contact with Brian. They Skyped occasionally, and she had talked to him just a few days before he died. She cried when I broke the news to her.
What made it even harder was that Brian was the second member of that magic Cub Scout camp youth staff to die. Matt Boles of Mt. Pleasant, who died in a swimming accident in 2009, also was part of that group of kids and adults who gathered around lakeside campfires on summer nights and shared the joy of being outdoors, being Scouts, being destined for great things.
The gym at Harbor Beach High School, the largest gathering place in that little town on Lake Huron, will be packed tomorrow. The town’s streets were lined with mourners when Pfc. Backus’ body was returned, and most of those people will be there, as well.
The Army honor guard will salute the fallen hero. “Taps” will be played and there will be many, many tears. Many, many words will be said, but none of them will do justice to all the tomorrows that changed forever when Brian died.