Becky Lourey walked the nearly two miles in the sweltering heat of the afternoon yesterday from the Old Post Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery to the freshly dug grave in Section 60, No. 8,187, where her son, Matthew, was to be buried.
Lourey, one of the most liberal state senators in Minnesota, had been one of the most outspoken critics of the war in Iraq. She circulated a petition opposing the U.S. decision to go to war unilaterally. She publicly sparred with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
And at a Democratic campaign rally last year, as Matthew was preparing to return voluntarily for a second tour of duty in Iraq, she railed against President Bush. "I don't want any more chicken hawks making these decisions, lying to us about the reasons," she said.
Yesterday, she walked slowly and deliberately behind a military band and the clip-clopping horses pulling a caisson with Matthew's coffin. She walked, along with Matthew's wife and nine of his brothers and sisters, their children and dozens of black-clad friends and mourners because, they said, it was one way they could honor him.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Scott Lourey, 40, of Lorton and East Bethel, Minn., died May 27, a day after his OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter came under small arms attack and crashed in Buhriz, just north of Baghdad, according to the Department of Defense.
Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Michael Scott, 28, of Sun Prairie, Wis., also died in the helicopter crash. Counting the two men -- members of the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. -- a total of 1,685 U.S. soldiers have died and nearly 13,000 have been wounded since military operations began in Iraq.
This had always been Becky Lourey's worst fear.
Yesterday, Matthew Lourey's father, Eugene, a one-time code breaker for the National Security Agency, sat graveside in a makeshift chair on the green artificial turf, shaking and sobbing into a handkerchief. He cried as officers presented a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and neatly folded flags to Becky Lourey and Matthew's wife, Lisa.
Matthew Lourey's father and brothers had asked him not to go back. He was one of the older pilots in the Army. He had been offered a cushy desk job. The war, they said, was all about oil and greed.
But Becky Lourey never asked him. "I knew he wouldn't be happy any other way," she said. She knew that once a soldier is called, it's the soldier's duty to serve. She is opposed to what she calls the "irresponsible leadership" of the commander in chief who made the call.
In e-mails Matthew sent her, he, too, described feeling uneasy about the war. But he loved the Army, she said. And he looked out for his men.
"Just because we opposed the war doesn't mean Matthew died in vain," Becky Lourey said. "Ever since he died, we've come to find out how many lives he saved, how many people he taught. He flew cover for Iraqis when they went to vote."
At a memorial service in Minnesota a few days ago, Matthew's wife, a captain in the Army's finance branch who works at the Pentagon, said flying was his dream.
He joined the Marines after high school. When they wanted him to be a cook, he quit, became a bush pilot and later signed up for the Army and flight school. He was so determined to stay in the sky that when high cholesterol might have grounded him, he became a vegetarian and marathon runner. "He died never sacrificing his dreams," his wife told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Military officers left the family alone with the silver coffin that soon would be lowered into the ground. Becky Lourey, a woman who bore four children and adopted eight, a politician who voted on a resolution to support the troops but not President Bush, wept.