The Blood of Patriots

At the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, history was being made Saturday:

John McCormick / The Swamp:

Obama draws record crowd in St. Louis — ST. LOUIS – Standing under the Gateway Arch, Sen. Barack Obama spoke this afternoon before a crowd his campaign said totaled 100,000, a new U.S. record for his presidential bid. — “All I can say is wow,” Obama said as he took the stage …
But far upstream, up the Missouri to Omaha, and then West along the Platte, and away from the river towards what used to be salt marshes, a different kind of history — very much related to the history taking place in St. Louis — was being made on Friday. It took place in Lincoln, Nebraska, whose origins bear on this story as well:

The City of Lincoln ( [from a word in the American Indian Omaha-Ponca language], meaning “Salt Village”, for Salt Creek, which was the historical center of the city) is the capital and the second most populous city of the U.S. state of Nebraska. Lincoln is also the county seat of Lancaster County and the home of the University of Nebraska. The population was 225,581 at the 2000 census.

Lincoln started out as the village of Lancaster, which was founded in 1856, and became the county seat of the newly created Lancaster County in 1859. The capital of Nebraska Territory had been Omaha since the creation of the territory in 1854; however, most of the territory’s population lived south of the Platte River. After much of the territory south of the Platte considered annexation to Kansas, the legislature voted to move the capital south of the river and as far west as possible. The village of Lancaster was chosen, in part due to the salt flats and marshes. However, Omaha interests attempted to derail the move by having Lancaster renamed after the recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. At the time, many of the people south of the river had been sympathetic towards the Confederate cause and it was assumed that the legislature would not pass the measure if the future capital was named after Lincoln. The ploy did not work, as Lancaster was renamed Lincoln and became the state capital upon Nebraska’s admission to the Union on March 1, 1867. [Wikipedia]

Something happened Friday in Lincoln at nearly the same time as something happened Saturday in St. Louis.

In order to understand the connection between the two events, we have to start with a flag-draped coffin, hidden from our sight.

«– ———–»

Here is the entry on the Military Times’ HONOR THE FALLEN page, “Honoring those who fought and died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom”:

January 20, 2007

The photo comes with this embedded caption:

A photo released by the U.S. Army shows Army 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Neb., who was killed in Iraq on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007. Eight Fort Richardson, Alaska-based soldiers assigned to the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division were killed and three were wounded in Iraq, an Army spokesman said Tuesday, Jan. 23. (AP Photo/U.S. Army )

And the Military Times summary:

Army 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz

25, of Verdon, Neb.; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska; died Jan. 20 in Karbala, Iraq, from wounds sustained when his patrol was ambushed while conducting dismounted operations. Also killed were Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, Pfc. Shawn P. Falter and Pvt. Johnathon M. Millican.


On August 12, 2008, in the capital of Nebraska, Lincoln, there was a ceremony, swaddled in flags, with the governor and other dignitaries in attendance.

In attendance was the mother of Lt. Jacob Fritz. One of her students had painted a tribute to her son.

(Aug. 13, 2008) News ReleaseGov. Dave Heineman today recognized Falls City High School senior, Timothy von Behren, who won a national contest for his patriotic artwork in the 2008 Young American Creative Patriotic Art Awards Scholarship Contest. Timothy’s (sic) drew “A Tribute to Jacob” for his teacher, Mrs. Noala Fritz, who’s (sic) son, Army 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz of Verdon, died Jan. 20, 2007 in Karbala, Iraq at the age of 25.

(L to R) Mrs. Noala Fritz, some important lady,
Timothy von Behren
, Gov. Dave Heineman, painting

On the Military Times tribute site, several stories are reprinted concerning the death of Mrs. Fritz’s son:

A look at soldiers abducted, killed in Karbala sneak attack

The Associated Press

“You don’t have to love the war,” Pvt. Johnathon M. Millican wrote on his MySpace page, “but you have to love the warrior.”

He was one of four soldiers killed after militants abducted them Jan. 20 from the governor’s office in Karbala, Iraq, in a sophisticated sneak attack, the military confirmed Jan. 26.

The four soldiers, and a fifth killed in the attack itself, were remembered for their athleticism — one was a bobsledder who competed with the U.S. national team — their compassion and their dedication.

“He always wanted to be in the military,” said Karen Mezger, a friend of 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz’s family and a counselor at the rural Nebraska high school he attended. “He was there because he believed in it.”

The attackers posed as an American security team — speaking English, wearing U.S. military combat fatigues and traveling in the type of sport utility vehicles U.S. government convoys use, U.S. military and Iraqi officials said. The U.S. command initially reported that five soldiers were killed while “repelling the attack” but Jan. 26 confirmed reports from Iraqi officials that four of the soldiers had been taken alive. […]

Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Neb., was a 2005 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who played football and basketball and ran track in high school.

“He was just a very kind, caring, compassionate young man,” Mezger said in an interview Jan. 29.

Fritz’s 22-year-old brother, Daniel, will graduate from West Point next year, she said.

Another AP story on the page fills in the details of HOW Lt. Fritz died for his country, but not why:

Questions about 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz’s death emerged Friday after The Associated Press reported that the 25-year-old from rural Verdon, Neb., may have been one of four U.S. soldiers abducted during a sneak attack in Karbala. A total of five U.S. soldiers were killed in the region last Saturday.

Karen Mezger, a family friend who knew Fritz, said Jan. 26 that the military has not told Fritz’s parents anything new about Jacob Fritz’s death since the initial notification.

“Right now, the parents are not listening to, or concerned with, anything about how he died,” Mezger said. “They just want to get him back here in Verdon, Nebraska.”

The U.S. military confirmed Jan. 26 that four soldiers were abducted during the attack in Karbala on Jan. 20. It said three were shot to death and a fourth was mortally wounded with a gunshot to the head when they were found in a neighboring province, far from the compound where they were captured.

The military’s statement confirmed details the AP reported earlier. Two of the four abducted soldiers were handcuffed together in the back seat of a sport-utility vehicle near the southern Iraqi town of Mahawil. A third dead soldier was on the ground nearby. The fourth soldier died on the way to a hospital, the military said.

On Jan. 20, the day of the highly sophisticated raid on a security meeting in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, the military said five soldiers were killed repelling the attack.

Mezger asked Fritz’s parents several questions on behalf of the AP, but they declined an interview.

Timothy von Behren, Gov. Dave Heinemann

The headline of the Nebraska governor’s webpage is,

Across Nebraska with Governor Dave Heineman
Gov. Heineman Recognizes National Winner of Young American Patriotic Art Award

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here…” goes the refrain.


The Lincoln newspaper, the Journal Star, wrote an elegiac story about the effect of the death of Lt. Fritz on the home front; an excerpt:

Ethan was alone when they drove up to the farmhouse that Saturday night. He knew for an hour and a half before his parents came home.

“We found a message on the cell phone: ‘Please come home now,’ ” Noala says.

“When we saw the two vehicles, I didn’t want to go in.”

Lyle’s first reaction: There must be a mistake. It couldn’t be Jake.

“The Friday before he was killed, he called at 9 in the morning,” Lyle says.

“I’d built a catch pen. There wasn’t a place on the farm he didn’t know, and he said: ‘I want to see it. Have Mom take pictures.’

“The next day, I go up and say: ‘Here it is, Jake. You can see it now’.”

Looking ahead to the end of Jacob’s military career, when he planned to return to Verdon to farm, the Fritzes bought 70 acres directly across the highway from their place a year ago.

Earlier this month, Sgt. 1st Class Sean Bennett, in Nebraska for another soldier’s funeral, drove down U.S. 73 and stopped at the bottom of the hill for supper.

“He was wounded in the attack and probably was the last person to see Jake,” Noala says.

“He got out of the car and said: ‘I can’t believe it. Jake used to talk about it all the time.’

“’I know this place.’

First Lt. Jacob Noal Fritz was one of four U.S. soldiers abducted Jan. 20 from the provincial headquarters in the Shiite holy city of Karbala by gunmen who wore American uniforms and passed freely through several checkpoints.

All four were killed

The autopsy revealed Jacob had fought hard for his life.

When Ethan was told, he said to his mother: “I knew it. I knew he fought.” […]

Family of five mourns 25-year-old lost in Iraq
By Don Walton
Lincoln Journal Star via The Associated Press

Surrounded by American flags, the Governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman held a ceremony in August honoring the honoring of Lt. Fritz. Timothy presented the painting Lt. Fritz’s mother, his teacher, with these words:

“A Tribute to Jacob”

We, the class of 2009 of Falls City High School, present this gift to you, Mrs. Fritz, in memory of your son, Jacob Fritz, who died for his country….

The governor’s office issued a press release, reprinted — with the “who’s” instead of “whose” intact — on each of the 22 photo pages on the “Across Nebraska with Governor Dave Heineman” virtual foyer of the governor’s website.


Governor Dave Heineman was in the news Friday — the day before Sen. Barack Obama addressed 100,000 in St. Louis, Missouri — for something different. The Lincoln Journal Star wrote a story about that announcement, as well:

UNL cancels William Ayers speech
BY MELISSA LEE / Lincoln Journal Star
Friday, Oct 17, 2008 – 10:42:48 pm CDT

Following widespread public furor over its invitation to ’60s and ’70s radical William Ayers to speak at a conference next month, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln late Friday canceled the speech for security reasons.


Ayers, a distinguished education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had been scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the College of Education and Human Sciences student research conference.

The conference is part of a two-day celebration honoring the college’s 100th anniversary. Ayers’ address was to have been called “We Are Each Other’s Keepers: Research to Change the World.”

A faculty committee selected Ayers last spring, believing he could share valuable insight on topics like social justice and urban educational reform, Marjorie Kostelnik, the education college’s dean, has said.

But since then, Ayers’ connections to Sen. Barack Obama — the two served on a Chicago board together years ago — have emerged as a focus in the presidential race, making his name much more widely known.

The William Ayers case is, of course, how the Republican party is trying to smear that fellow who spoke to 100,000 in St. Louis on Saturday.

Let’s let the prosecutor in that Weathermen case (underlying it all) explain what happened legally to Mr. Ayers many years ago (emphasis added), from the New York Times, Oct. 9, 2008:

Re “Politics of Attack” (editorial, Oct. 8) and “Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths” (front page, Oct. 4):

As the lead federal prosecutor of the Weathermen in the 1970s (I was then chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of Michigan and took over the Weathermen prosecution in 1972), I am amazed and outraged that Senator Barack Obama is being linked to William Ayers’s terrorist activities 40 years ago when Mr. Obama was, as he has noted, just a child.

Although I dearly wanted to obtain convictions against all the Weathermen, including Bill Ayers, I am very pleased to learn that he has become a responsible citizen.

Because Senator Obama recently served on a board of a charitable organization with Mr. Ayers cannot possibly link the senator to acts perpetrated by Mr. Ayers so many years ago.

I do take issue with the statement in your news article that the Weathermen indictment was dismissed because of “prosecutorial misconduct.” It was dismissed because of illegal activities, including wiretaps, break-ins and mail interceptions, initiated by John N. Mitchell, attorney general at that time, and W. Mark Felt, an F.B.I. assistant director.

William C. Ibershof
Mill Valley, Calif., Oct. 8, 2008

William Ayers — demonstrably — rehabilitated himself and lived a useful and productive life after the botched trial. All evidence suggests that the U.S. Government did not.

In his eloquent concurrence in the flag burning case, Justice Kennedy wrote, in Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Our colleagues in dissent advance powerful arguments why respondent may be convicted for his expression [flag burning], reminding us that among those who will be dismayed by our holding will be some who have had the singular honor of carrying the flag in battle. And I agree that the flag holds a lonely place of honor in an age when absolutes are distrusted and simple truths are burdened by unneeded apologetics.

With all respect to those views, I do not believe the Constitution gives us the right to rule as the dissenting Members of the Court urge, however painful this judgment is to announce. Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.

That is our long-held tradition in America. That is the Constitution that we swear allegience to.

But, in some parts of America, vigilante justice is, seemingly, still the rule. Continuing the Journal Star story:

So when news of Ayers’ planned appearance at UNL broke Thursday, the public reaction was swifter — and angrier — than UNL originally anticipated.

Phone calls and e-mails flooded the offices of NU President J.B. Milliken, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Kostelnik and the NU Foundation.

Some donors threatened to withhold financial support to the university unless Ayers was disinvited. One such donor: the Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation in Omaha, which has provided millions to NU in the past 40 years.

And statements from political leaders urging UNL to rethink its decision poured in.

“This is an embarrassment to the University of Nebraska and the State of Nebraska,” Gov. Dave Heineman said. “Bill Ayers is a well-known radical who should never have been invited to the University of Nebraska.” …


This wasn’t an isolated incident. Every politico above dog catcher in Nebraska joined the ponderous kerfuffle. Alas, too bad they don’t actually believe in free speech. That’s the first guarantee in that document that all U.S. soldiers and many politicians, including presidents and, yes, attorneys general — like John Mitchell and Alberto Gonzales — take an oath to protect and defend.

We don’t swear our allegiance to any party or potentate. We have our soldiers swear to protect and defend the Constitution, as do we when new citizens are administered the oath of citizenship.

What William Ayers had to say in Nebraska was not as a terrorist. He was not inciting violence or sedition. He was there as a respected educator to deliver a speech on research. Legally, his past misdeeds were WIPED CLEAN in the eyes of the law and the Constitution, and Governor Dave Heineman, who had so recently draped himself in the flag from the coffin of Lt. Jacob Fritz, has decided that HE would threaten the University of Nebraska (you will agree that it’s pretty overt, if unspoken, if you have resided on Terra for any significant length of time).

This is his fidelity to that constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

scout @ Omaha Palin Rally (Reuters)

But it’s important not just to read what Heineman placed on that selfsame website. You can LISTEN to it too. He felt it was important enough to read and record, along with the official press release, and I agree, albeit for entirely different reasons.

October 17, 2008, 2:15 p.m. CT

Jen Rae Hein, Gov’s Office
Ashley Cradduck, Gov’s Office

Gov. Heineman’s Comment on University of Nebraska’s Invitation to Bill Ayers

(Lincoln, NE)[ Audio Clip ]Gov. Dave Heineman today released the following statement regarding the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s invitation to Bill Ayers to speak at the University on November 15.

“Chairman of the Board of Regents Chuck Hassebrook and President of the University J.B. Milliken should immediately rescind the invitation extended to Bill Ayers to speak at the University on November 15. This is an embarrassment to the University of Nebraska and the State of Nebraska. Bill Ayers is a well known radical who should never have been invited to the University of Nebraska.”


Now I will ask you: is that the America that Lt. Fritz gave his last full measure of devotion to defend? You, dear reader, must adjudicate that question in your own heart, and be responsible for your own answer. I can’t force any opinion on you. The only opinion that matters is Lt. Jacob Fritz’s and he lies cold and silent in the Nebraska soil. All that he might have had or been were sacrificed in the name of our Constitution.


So, we have a tale of two cities, one in Missouri and one in Nebraska, and they are linked in a mysterious, almost unfathomable manner, yet they are truly linked.

In one sense, it is difficult to write of the death of Lt. Fritz. But in another sense, it is immoral NOT to ask why he died on our behalf, or to put him out of mind. We know a little about who he was, where he was from and how he died. What we do not know is what he himself believed. What we do not know is why.

… in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

Abraham Lincoln, speech, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, June 1, 1865.

Two Americas, mutually exclusive and irreconcilable. We must choose one or the other. Free speech. Or McCarthyesque outbursts. Ward Churchill was subjected to the same sort of political pressures, and when the University of Oregon cancelled his appearance (again, on an academic matter), they used virtually the exact same language that the University of Nebraska used on Friday.

So, which America did Jacob Fritz of Verdon, Nebraska die in defense of? Lincoln, Nebraska’s on Friday, or St. Louis, Missouri’s on Saturday?

Only the dead can say, and they’re not talking.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, speech, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, June 1, 1865.



cross-posted from his vorpal sword

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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