When Joseph Comes Marching Home
The feeling is starting to bubble up elsewhere, too, among people who feel that what Darby did was unpatriotic, un-American, even faintly treasonous. "Hero A Two-Timing Rat," reads a headline from last week's New York Post. The story is about his personal life, but the metaphor lingers.
The Army says it's considering giving Darby a medal, although Army spokesman Dov Schwartz said it can't say when. It took the Army 30 years and the intervention of a dogged professor to give a medal to Hugh Thompson, who reported to his commanders what came to be known as the My Lai massacre.
In the meantime, members of Darby's family find themselves in a situation not unlike the Sivitses' -- refusing interviews, hiding from neighbors and strangers alike. Events have shoved them into history but not yet sorted out their individual fates.
Darby's mother, Margaret Blank, has had cancer and diabetes, and lost one eye. Her husband died a few years back. She now lives in a cramped trailer steps from a railroad track, at the edge of a line of trim clapboard houses.
"I'm proud of -- " Blank yells out her car window at a reporter as she pulls onto the grass by her trailer, having just picked up Montana, her younger son, from school.
Then abruptly she changes her mind "Get the [expletive] off my property. Now. Before I call the police."
"He said that he could not stand the atrocities that he had stumbled upon," Blank told ABC News on May 6. "He said he kept thinking, what if it was my mom, my grandmother, my brother or my wife."
For the family, however, pride is tainted with fear. His sister-in-law, Maxine Carroll, who's served as the family spokeswoman for the last couple of weeks, told reporters she's "worried about his safety," about "repercussions." "It scares you a little," she told the Associated Press, when asked if some might consider him a traitor. On May 8, she and her husband slipped away from their housing complex in Windber, Pa., to an undisclosed location.
An Army spokesman confirmed that Darby is on leave in the United States but wouldn't disclose where he is. At his home in Corriganville, the shutters are closed, a day's worth of mail sits outside the front door. A man ambles down the street to the tiny post office. Two houses down an older couple rock the afternoon away. The white church across the street seems empty.
Nobody answered knocks on the door or phone calls. There are three cars parked outside, each with a flag decal and one with a sticker saying "Support Our Troops," the only sign that a soldier might live there.
'Passionate and Committed'
At least two other soldiers complained to superiors about conditions at the prison, but Darby's act was the most cinematic. After looking at some of the graphic images, Darby slipped an anonymous note under a division officer's door, according to an account in the New Yorker magazine.
At a court hearing for another soldier, Darby testified that he felt "very bad" about what was going on in the prison and he "thought it was very wrong."
Darby, 24, joined the Army Reserve about three years ago, after a brief stint working as a mechanic in Falls Church. That decision brought him back to Corriganville, yet another spot in a region he'd bounced around most of his life.
His family had lived in a white duplex in the small town of Jenners, Pa., long enough for him to graduate from North Star High School. Back then he passed the school's hallway inspirationals: "You are responsible for your own actions," reads a sign at the entrance. "When you believe in yourself anything is possible."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company