July 2003

by Amy Bowers

I'm sorry for your loss.

Saturday, June 28, I drove the Mapquest Way to Roselle New Jersey, the family home of Sgt. 1st Class Gladimir "Jimmy" Philippe.

The family had known he and another soldier were missing in Iraq, but by the time the army's casualty assistance officer and army chaplain came to the door to tell them the bodies had been found 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, Renisse Philippe already knew. "I told him he's coming too late," he told a few reporters in front of his modest two-story home. He had learned of his son's death on CNN.

What's going on, asked a neighbor, rolling down her window as she drove past our satellite truck. One of the two soldiers killed in the Humvee ambush was from here, I explained. Oh no, her quiet concern.

A man who watched the gathering from his garage, said he was sad for his neighbor.

Dear reader, I told you this would happen. When a serviceman from New Jersey died, I would ask his parents whether they wanted to be on tv. Actually I didn't have to ask that question. I only had to produce a midday Live Shot and tape a stand-up with a correspondent.

At 11:30AM the Live Shot crew was in New York City on the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel and would not arrive in Roselle in time for our 12 noon hit, but the network news crew, already on the scene, could cover.

"I have to take a second to say hi to someone I haven't seen in thirty years," said the network cameraman with a shock of gray bangs. Those bangs were blonde last time I saw them, our rookie year in Boston during school desegregation when he reported for newsradio and I shot television newsfilm. Larry Barr quickly set to work, lighting a stand-up position from the street corner. While our correspondent checked his facts, I tested the mic and IFB handed to me by Zack, a sound tech who could be younger than some of the cables he was using.

"We're coming to you at the top of the hour," we were alerted. Our correspondent put on his jacket, got "wired up" and went to work. "Stand by," said an associate director in the control room. A few seconds later, we were Live, about 20 yards from the Philippe's front steps where family members were still arriving.

After our Live Shots, an army public affairs specialist came to the sidewalk with a Yellow Pad, used by almost everyone who suddenly becomes news. He took phone numbers and email addresses from members of the news media, and said he was there to consult with the family and offer them assistance in dealing with us. He went inside to do that, and later returned to the street.

The public affairs specialist told a score of reporters the family was waiting for other relatives to arrive and would have no more to say that day. "How can we make them go away?" the family had asked him. "You can go out there and talk to them, and they'll go away," he said. Not today, not now. no. While acknowledging we could stay on the public street, he requested privacy for the family.

We were of merciful accord at msnbc, and left. We parked the satellite truck in a lot near a main drag, to feed additional video from the town of Roselle. We ate fried fish sandwiches in a small deli across the street. The owner said she was sorry about the Sergeant. She said we should come back some time.

When an American soldier dies in Iraq, it is news. From my rung of the network television news ladder, (a rung that touches the street) I saw a quiet town where a family grieved.

We watched their house for three hours, then we left their sorrow. Was it fair to park a satellite truck on the corner? Better to ignore the modest neighborhood where a career soldier had grown up well? Or find the family, validate the loss, share the sorrow. You may say we exploit the sorrow, but I still believe it's allright to ask, once.

"What if you lost someone, would you want to walk past tv cameras?" an angry reader once wrote. The evening I drove home from Roselle, someone in my family returned from Iraq. If he hadn't come home, if it had seemed newsworthy to anyone, I don't know what I'd want, or who would manage the yellow pad.

email: amy@marash.tv
website: www.amybowers.tv


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