Death of Teen Soldier Brings Grief to Iowans
Friday, May 11, 2007
DAVENPORT, Iowa. May 10 -- The long black hearse did not belong in the picture, parked outside Davenport North High School on a day more suited to a picnic than a wake. As students spilled into the afternoon sunshine and did a double take, a family gathered to mourn an effervescent teenager taken too soon.
Pfc. Katie M. Soenksen, a 19-year-old soldier serving with the 410th Military Police Company, died last week in a Baghdad explosion not two years after she graduated from North High. She enlisted and wrote recently that being in Iraq "makes me realize how good we have it in America."
She was the 71st woman killed in Iraq -- 45 by hostile action -- and the 246th teenage soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. With women serving in combat in unprecedented numbers, the number killed in action is higher than in previous wars, roughly triple the number of female casualties in Vietnam and the Gulf War combined.
Soenksen's death cut deeply in Iowa, which buried another 19-year-old soldier on Wednesday. In the Quad Cities, which straddle the Mississippi, 14 fighting men and women have been buried since the Iraq war began, breaking hearts and driving political attitudes.
Anger over Iraq was decisive in November, when the Democrats captured the 1st District congressional seat held by Republicans since 1978. Losing GOP candidate Mike Whalen said it was "the overwhelming issue," a predicament all too familiar to anxious Republican moderates who warned President Bush this week that patience with the war is waning.
But the days since a homemade bomb killed Soenksen have been more about pain and hugs than politics. Support for the family has been overwhelming. Hundreds of people streamed into the high school on Wednesday, the day before her military funeral, to offer comforting words and heartfelt embraces.
As lights on a signboard flashed, "We'll Miss You, Katie," one administrator said the experience of burying a student who had been so vibrant and alive was "very surreal."
When the news reached Davenport on May 2, Brandon Concannon Colter was with his best friend, Marco Torres, who had dated Soenksen for two years. They were riding bikes at the Bettendorf skate park when Torres's cellphone rang.
"It just got kind of silent," said Concannon Colter, 17, a senior in North High's Junior ROTC program. "He was like, 'I'll be all right. I'll be all right.' He got off the phone and he was [teed] off and sad.
"I said, 'What is it?' He said, 'Katie died.' It was a silent ride home."
Concannon Colter told his parents and his sister, but Soenksen's death did not compute.
"It was more shock than devastation. 'They're lying,' " he thought.