When Joseph Comes Marching Home
In a Western Maryland Town, Ambivalence About the Son Who Blew the Whistle at Abu Ghraib
By Hanna Rosin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 17, 2004; Page C01
On TV, Spec. Joseph Darby's neighbors here in the Allegheny Mountains have heard him called a hero, a brave soldier who tipped off superiors to the abuses at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. And given the way small towns usually honor their soldiers, you might expect preparations for a proper homecoming, maybe even an impromptu parade.
But at the bar in the community center just down the road from Darby's house, near the trailer where his mother and younger brother live, none of the handful of patrons is in a parade kind of mood.
"If I were [Darby], I'd be sneaking in through the back door at midnight," says Janette Jones, who lives just across the border in Pennsylvania and stopped here at midday with her daughter for a Pepsi and a smoke.
What captures their attention this day is not Darby but the ubiquitous photo of another young man, Nicholas Berg, handcuffed and stooped in his orange jumpsuit, moments before he is beheaded by Islamic militants who claimed to be avenging the humiliations suffered by Iraqis at Abu Ghraib.
"Maybe if [Darby] hadn't turned them in, that boy would still be alive," Jones says.
"Come on, Mom, you can't blame him," says her daughter Janice, giving a friendly shove. "They'd hate us no matter what."
Janette Jones's husband was in the service, and so was her son-in-law. The Joneses live not far from Spec. Jeremy Sivits, a military police officer involved in the prison scandal who will face a special court-martial Wednesday. They knew Sivits, 24, growing up: He was a "nice guy, a quiet guy," says the elder Jones. She remembers he once helped her with the barbecue when the coals wouldn't light.
"Who knows what those boys were going through out there," she says. "The Iraqis did to us worse than we did to them."
In this mountain range where three states meet -- Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- everyone seems to have a brother or uncle or grandfather in the armed services, especially since the coal and steel industries collapsed. Every small town has a war memorial honoring local fallen soldiers. Veterans Day is a serious affair.
Wives used to trade stories about finding someone to talk to in Korea or the right chocolate bars in Germany. Lately they talk about the latest funeral. The shame brought on by the prison scandal centered on the 372nd Military Police Company, based one town over in Cresaptown, has only made them cling to each other more.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised Darby for his "honorable actions." But Washington is a universe away. "They can call him what they want," says Mike Simico, a veteran visiting relatives in Cresaptown. "I call him a rat."
The sentiment is so deeply felt that even those who praise him do so only anonymously, or with many reservations.
"That boy's got a lot of courage," says Alan St. Clair, who lives down the road from Darby's high school home. "But when you go against your fellow man like that, I don't know. Some people won't like it."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company