11 May 95
Mr. and Mrs. Brian Isfeld
Site 326 C14 RR3
Courtenay, BC V9N 5M8
Dear Carol and Brian
The "No duff" came over the Iltis radio and I directed my driver to head to the Unit Medical Station (UMS) which was about 50 km from our location. When we arrived at the gate a sentry informed me that a casualty had recently been air-lifted to the UMS. I immediately went to the UMS which was only a few hundred yards inside the gate.
Under the modular tent the two Battalion medical officers, along with the medics, were busy attending to Sgt. James and Mark. I observed both patients from a little distance, not wanting to get in the way of the medical team's work. Shortly thereafter I was directed to a third patient, Sgt McMillan. He was located in a room off to the side of the main medical treatment area.
After spending a few moments with him, I returned to where Mark was. By now he was about to be taken out to the awaiting helicopter and flown to the Czech Forward Surgical Unit (FSU) located in the town of Knin. As Mark was being placed into the helicopter I placed my hand on his forehead, made the sign of the cross, and offered a silent prayer for him. Mark did not appear conscious, although he was breathing with the help of a ventilator. Lt(N) Smith, on boarding the helicopter to accompany Mark to Knin said "John, I think you should head to Knin as well". I spent some time with the UMS staff and then got into the Iltis and drove to Knin.
When I arrived at the FSU, Lt(N) Smith met me and said that Mark "did not make it". He had fought hard to save Mark and I could see the disappointment and hurt on his face.
I was then directed to where Mark's body was covered and respectfully placed. A young medic was with Mark. I went up to Mark, knelt by him and prayed, "Depart, O Christian Soul, out of this world, in the name of God the Father, who loved you and created you, in the name of God the Son, who redeemed you, and in the name of God the Holy Spirit who sanctified you. May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling - place the paradise of God, where sorrow and pain are no more and every tear is wiped away". As I prayed, the young medic broke down and cried. We sat together quietly with Mark, the deep silence spoke the words we could not speak. We knew something of the hurt his family and friends would soon feel.
Later that night I returned to the Engineer Troop and met with Mark's peers who were involved in the incident. We sat around in a circle, each one telling what had happened earlier in the day. Needless to say, there were a lot of emotions and tears flowed freely.
Several days later we gathered for a Memorial Service in the Engineer Troop location. There were representatives from every company, everyone who could be spared from the Battalion were on hand, including representatives from Sector Headquarters.
Father Mark Sargent and I led the service. It was my responsibility to "preach". I had struggled with what to say and in the end I decided to speak on the text "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the Sons of God" (Matt 5:9). I described how Jesus had rode into Jerusalem seated on a donkey - the symbol of peace. I said that Mark came to the former Yugoslavia wearing a blue beret - the symbol of peace. I mentioned that both were young men, in the prime of their life. Both sought only to do good, to end violence and to care for those in need. I explained that both Jesus and Mark would die in the cause of peace.
I went on to describe how Jesus' friends were distraught and without hope after they experienced Jesus' death; and how they travelled to his tomb expecting only to find a corpse. But, to their amazement the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive!
I asked Mark's friends and those in attendance, who in a sense were journeying to Mark's tomb, to also try and discover that Mark, the person we knew and loved, was also alive, that his tomb too was empty and that he continues to live but in a way that is different and obviously removed from our daily experience of him.
I am not sure that what I said had any real meaning or value to Mark's friends that day. Perhaps there was not anything I could have said that would have lifted them from their hurt and sorrow. I feel I did not connect with what many were feeling or needing. I feel I had let them down with that sermon.
Fortunately, later that evening Mark's many friends were able to hold a "Memorial" that better enabled them to show their love for Mark and allow them to say goodbye. The Engineer Troop held the Viking custom of burning a boat to commemorate a friend's passing and to symbolize his spirit's ascending from the earth. It was an emotional and wonderfully moving ceremony. Watching the sparks from the fire ascend into the night sky and seemingly blend into the stars of heaven, it was as if Mark's spirit was leaving the bonds of earth and being set free to know the wonder, mystery and glory of all that is holy and good in the universe. He was going from us, and that was painful, but he was ascending to that place where everything is right, whole and pure.
I am very happy that Mark's friends had that night and were able to freely express their stories about him as well as let out the emotions they felt toward him.
Mark was fondly thought of. He made an important contribution to the lives of the people he served. He boosted the morale of all around him. His tragic and untimely death took its toll on all who knew him. He can never be replaced, only remembered, loved, grieved for, and ultimately prayed for in that his death was not in vain, that he continues to live in a way we can not understand and that some day we will meet him again.
In closing let me say, I am very pleased that I called and was able to speak with you both. I have four sons of my own. When I went home for lunch today, I took my three year old son, Luke, into my arms, hugged and kissed him. I thought of you and when Mark was a child. I couldn't put my son down. We don't know how long we will have them with us. We do not know what the future holds. Yet, as scary and painful as that thought is, what pure gems our children are.
We live in a world where matters of the heart remain what is most important. I cannot take away your heartbreak or explain what life is about or why the good suffer. I do believe that amidst all the pain there is love. It is because of your deep love for Mark that you are so hurt by his death. Indeed as Mark has said, "When you give love you give yourself. Believe! He said He'd never leave us, so love . . ."!
Mark gave his love to all who knew him. He gave us himself. Love remains, Mark remains. In a different way he remains with us, but he remains. We will ever remember him . . ." Lest we forget".
May God bless you, grant you strength, hope and comfort.
John M. Organ
Captain Padre (p) 1 PPCLI