Tom's last journeyby Doug Pritchard
Our brother Tom has begun his final journey home.
He left Anaconda military base at Balat, Iraq, at dawn on Mar. 13 (9 p.m. EST, Mar. 12), and is expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware at 1 a.m. EST, Mar. 14.
CPT Toronto was originally informed by Canadian authorities at 1:30 p.m. EST Mar. 10, that a body had been found in Baghdad which was likely that of Tom Fox. An hour later, when the CPT Iraq team asked officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad if they could come to identify the body, they were told that it had already left on a military transport for Dover. Officials had repeatedly assured the team over the previous three months that CPT would be able to accompany our colleagues home "if at all possible." They now said that their only focus was getting the body back to the USA as soon as possible. At 8 p.m. EST, the U.S. State Department confirmed the identity as Tom Fox based on fingerprints.
The next day, Mar. 11, at 10 a.m. EST, CPT Iraq learned that Tom's body was still at the Anaconda base at Balat. The U.S. Embassy arranged for Beth Pyles, a member of the CPT Iraq team, to travel to Anaconda, and she was able to keep vigil with Tom for the next 36 hours until his departure. Meanwhile, CPT members Rich Meyer and Anne Montgomery travelled to Dover, and have been in the vicinity since 5 p.m. Mar. 11, keeping vigil and awaiting Tom's arrival.
Pyles was present on the tarmac at Anaconda as Tom's coffin was loaded onto the plane for Dover. She reported that his coffin was draped in a U.S. flag. This is unusual for a civilian, but Tom may not have been uncomfortable with this since he had always called his nation to live out the high ideals which it professed. Iraqi detainees who die in U.S custody are also transported to Dover for autopsies and forensics. On this plane, right beside Tom's coffin, was the coffin of an Iraqi detainee. So Tom accompanied an Iraqi detainee in death, just as he had done so often in life.
At Tom's departure, Pyles read out from the gospel of John, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it" (1:5). In honour of Tom's Iraqi companion, she spoke the words called out repeatedly from the mosques of Baghdad during the Shock and Awe bombing campaign in March 2003, "allah akhbar" (God is greater). She concluded the sending with words from the Jewish scriptures, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).
Dawn broke. The contingent of Puerto Rican soldiers nearby saluted. The plane taxied away. Venus, the morning star, shone brightly overhead as the night faded away. Godspeed you, Tom, on your final journey home to your family and friends.
Doug Pritchard is a co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
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