Bill Mitchell of Atascadero, California, never expected his boy to make Nightline, let alone Doonesbury. He was happy enough that his son Mike had made a man of himself in the US Army, while not losing his compassion and fun-loving nature.
But now, there was the face of Michael W. Mitchell, staff sergeant in the US Army, in the Washington Post, on Nightline and on the front page of USA Today, his name plastered all over other newspapers and even etched in a panel of Garry Trudeau’s comic strip. It was all part of Memorial Day remembrances in 2004, back when the names and faces of the fallen were still limited enough to read or show all of them, in print or on the air.
Mike Mitchell had been shot by a sniper on April 4, 2004, dead at the age of 25, after volunteering to take control of a tank’s machine gun during an ambush in Sadr City.
What did his father, a wiry 53-year-old Army veteran, think of the Doonesbury mention and similar honors, which some pro-warriors in the media denounced as "antiwar" gestures? "I like seeing the names out there," Bill Mitchell (no relation) told me, six days before Trudeau’s tribute appeared, with every deceased soldier’s name in tiny lettering. "Otherwise, they are just unknown soldiers."
Surprisingly, he took it further: "I would welcome printing the name of anyone who has died due to this war. Is an American death worth more than the death of an Iraqi, an Australian, or a Spaniard? I would bet you the grieving parents of those who were killed could straighten out some people in America who only think our loved ones are important! These deaths are the real cost of war, and every single one should be given the honorable mention it deserves."
Bill didn’t require the death of his son to oppose this war, however. He had carried a sign during a March 20, 2004, peace protest near his home that read, "Bring my son home now." Less than three weeks later, Mike would come home, in a coffin, with a flag draped over it. Roughly 4000 Americans have since followed.
I met Bill Mitchell (pictured at left) in an odd but appropriate way. When I wrote a column comparing the Iraq war with Vietnam on April 8, 2004—then a bit of a stretch, now far from far-fetched—I ended it with a tribute to the Americans lately killed in action, using a list the New York Times carried every day. Among the names: Michael W. Mitchell.