The Loss of Pedro 66

“Soldier Antlers” by Lydia Komatsu

Last fall, I began drafting a new essay inspired by Dust to Dust, the Benjamin Busch memoir. There was this passage in which Busch recalled the moment of his mother’s death to cancer, only a year after his father Frederick Busch died. Reading that passage will always be for me the moment I knew I could go deeper with my writing. I won’t give anything away or quote the stunning prose – you need to read the entire work for yourself – but Busch does this magic trick in which he slows the moment of her passing. That, I thought, is how I would like to write.

Essay writing is a labor of love, as is any act of creativity. I’ve always taken this to mean “unrequited,” but lately learned it just means you must love what you are writing about. The situation must be near to you, precious enough to drive you to the page, tilting at the quixotic question: What does all this mean to me?

The essay began as a foray into the connection between my running and my wars, but ended up leading me down unexpected paths until when I finished and realized this is less about running than it is about loss and memory. Some of this was just evolution. Nonfiction to me was history books and journalism; but as I read and wrote through my first year of a Master’s Degree in Creative Nonfiction Writing, that word “creative” became more and more important.

In writing, we talk about what happened as “the situation.” It’s the who, what, where, when, why, and how of things. The “story” is how we choose to write about those things in order to bring forth what felt most true. When Pedro 66 went down five years ago on this date, the story was obscured to me for the longest time. I knew what happened to a certain extent, the situation that enveloped it. But I could not find the what it meant, and without that in hand, I couldn’t find a way to write about it beyond the chronology of events that exposed in me a raw grief.

Reading Dust to Dust taught me that the understanding the story isn’t about having the answers; rather, it’s about the pursuit. Seeking truth is the story in some cases, and to write in such a way as to illuminate it like Ben Busch did, well, I’d say that’s a good goal for an essay.  I don’t know why Mike Flores, Joel Gentz, and Ben White had to die on June 9th, 2010, but I do know that their deaths were meaningful to me. What went through their minds in their final moments can never be known, but that won’t stop me from trying to imagine it, even if it’s painful to do so. I will forever be in front of their caskets as long as I’m at the page.

Blue Skies, Brothers

Capt David Wisniewski, Pilot
1Lt Joel Gentz, CRO
TSgt Michael Flores, PJ
SSgt David Smith, FE
SrA Benjamin White, PJ

8 responses

  1. Hmmm…my thoughts. It was a hard read; I struggled to get through it. Only in the last chapter or two did I really feel like I was “getting” what he was saying. For me, getting past the prosaic writing style was tough…a few paragraphs of descriptive prose are plenty for me! And I also realized that the lack of people and dialogue in the story made it hard for me to engage. Despite this, there were many gems of sentences hidden in every chapter. Some profound stuff. Which makes me consider reading it again despite the difficulty.

    I agree with you that the section about his mother’s death was very well-written. He stretches out that moment and puts you there, doesn’t he? Where I work, I care for patients and families facing that kind of situation every day…it was good for me to be able to see it from his perspective again. When you walk with death every day you can easily forget that most people don’t.

    I also appreciated his reflections on how all that happens in our past is with us now, how we carry it with us…there were a few passages in the prologue and epilogue (I think) that were especially memorable. But the line I will always carry with me from “Dust to Dust” is this: “I have been welcomed home many times, but I have never come all the way back from the places I have been.” I get that.


    • You should check out Bellevue Literary Review for literature connected to the medical experience, if you haven’t done so already. WRT D2D, I don’t know, sometimes books come into our lives and just seem to click at that moment. I’m not sure if re-reading now would change things, but I don’t think so. For a memoir structured off the physical world (his “elements”) I don’t know that you can get around extensive scene. For me, I appreciated it, because he was capable of evoking emotion through descriptive scene vs. telling me how to feel. From a craft perspective, it was much appreciated, and a lesson I reflected upon in my post on the book itself.


      • Yes I definitely agree with you there, how he makes the reader feel by describing instead of telling. That was really well done.

        Just had a quick look at BLR and look forward to reading more. Thanks!


  2. Leaving this comment here since this post is stickied to the top of your homepage. And it’s related to the topic anyway, even though it’s an old post.

    Finally read your essay, “Calling Jody…” in TNS. After our discussion above and all the positive Twitter feedback, I decided I had to order a copy and read it for myself. I am so glad I did. Matthew–excellent, excellent essay. It’s the first time I have ever read so slowly! Savouring. Pondering. I really liked the structure of it, and you had some great turns of phrase and refreshing of old cliches.

    Besides the technical aspect, the topic was meaningful and thought-provoking. It’s interesting…I often think of our servicemen (Canadian, in my case) and remembrance while I am running, no matter whether it is November 11 or not. And yet I am a civilian with little connection to the military. That is an essay I am plugging away at myself. Anyway…. I heard echoes of Benjamin Busch/D2D in some of the paragraphs–wonder if you realized that. 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing your reflections, and for telling us about your PJs. They live on, not only through your running and remembrance, but also through your words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you enjoyed – I was reading Busch when I first began the essay, and there is one aspect of it that came from a dream I had after reading Dust to Dust one afternoon. Best of luck on that essay – please let me know when it’s out in the world so I can take a look. I’m very interested in civilian writing about war in any fashion.


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