Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 31, 2005

Tragedy and Perspective

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:03 am

This is a tragic story that pulls all our heartstrings. But, it should also give us some perspective.

PLAINWELL, Mich. — Petty Officer 3rd Class Shane Schmidt and her father share a unique, yet tragic bond — both survived their war experiences in the Navy only to be killed in car accidents back home. The 32-year-old soldier also was buried on the 32nd anniversary of her father’s death.

Her father, Dan Vote, missed the birth of his daughter while serving a yearlong tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He returned to the United States when she was about 6 months old but died a few weeks later.

Vote was killed in a car accident on April 12, 1973, near Kalamazoo[.]

Schmidt joined the Navy as a [medical] corpsman because she felt it was the best way for her to become a nurse, Alderman said. … .

Assigned to the Marines’ 2nd Transportation Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Schmidt served with distinction for seven months in Iraq. She received several commendations and awards, including the Navy Achievement Medal.

Like her father, Schmidt walked away from the war unscathed, returning in mid-March. She died within weeks of being home.

On April 1, Schmidt was struck by a driver alongside a Florida highway as she talked to her husband on her cell phone. She had pulled off the road during a downpour, perhaps to wait until the rain eased up, said Lt. Bill Leeper, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol.

It is always a tragedy when someone is killed, especially from something so senseless as a car accident (they are awaiting test results to determine whether the driver was drunk). It somehow seems more tragic when someone survives a dangerous situation only to be killed in a mundane way — though it is difficult to explain logically why this should be so.

Yet, this event should also give us some perspective, in two ways.

First, while service in Iraq or Afganistan is dangerous, it is not nearly as dangerous as most of us outside the military think. Hundreds of thousands served, but only a relatively few — I believe less than 1 of every 3,000 — have been killed. While every death is a tragedy, it is surely better that we have fewer tragedies than most of us would think based on the news coverage.

Second, staying at home is not nearly as safe as we think. Thousands of people die every year as victims of violent crime. Almost 40,000 people a year are killed in car accidents in the United States, with an estimated worldwide death toll of over a milllion a year.

Life is precious and fragile, whether you are on duty in Baghdad or driving a car in Florida.

(There are also a bunch of weird soap-opera-style facts in the story. Read it if you are interested.)

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