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Shane Comes Home
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Shane Comes Home

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by Rinker Buck

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On March 21, 2003, while leading a rifle platoon into combat, Marine Lieutenant Shane Childers became the first combat fatality of the Iraq War. In this gripping, beautifully written personal history, award-winning writer Rinker Buck chronicles Shane's death and his life, exploring its meaning for his family, his fellow soldiers, and the country itself. It is the


On March 21, 2003, while leading a rifle platoon into combat, Marine Lieutenant Shane Childers became the first combat fatality of the Iraq War. In this gripping, beautifully written personal history, award-winning writer Rinker Buck chronicles Shane's death and his life, exploring its meaning for his family, his fellow soldiers, and the country itself. It is the story of an intelligent, gifted soldier who embodied the soul of today's all-volunteer warrior class; of the town of Powell, Wyoming, which had taken Shane into its heart; and of the Marine detail sent to deliver the news to the Childers family and the extraordinary connection that formed between them.

At once an inspiring account of commitment to the military and a moving story of family and devotion, Shane Comes Home rises above politics to capture the life of a remarkable young man who came to symbolize the heart of America during a difficult time.

Editorial Reviews

Sun Herald (Mississippi)
“Hard to put down . . . a good read about a great man who died too soon.”
Kirkus Reviews
An affecting portrait of the first American combat fatality in the Iraq war, and of those who suffered his loss. As Hartford Courant staff writer Buck (Flight of Passage, 1997) reports, Marine Lt. Shane Childers was "one of a handful of grunts picked every year for promotion from the enlisted to commissioned officer ranks," and for good reason: he excelled at everything he turned his hand to, had grown from redneck to world traveler and would-be French teacher, and was "the kind of soldier whom all the enlisted men and officers boasted about and who was well known throughout the network of Marine bases across the country." His legend, the reader is left to presume, will only increase in the wake of his death. Shot down only a dozen hours after assuming command of a rifle platoon while attempting to secure an Iraqi oil-pumping station, Childers was an exemplary soldier; of that Buck leaves no doubt. But there are other noteworthy soldiers in Buck's cast of characters, including the young CACO, or Casualty Assistance Calls Officer, assigned to bring the news of Childers's death to his family. Buck's leisurely developed account of the rituals by which Marines attend to their fallen is very well done, though at points not for the squeamish. Well done, too, are the character studies that emerge as Buck relates the effects of Childers's death on his small community and his many relatives. Childers's inconsolable Vietnam vet father and his mother wrestle early on with the question of whether to inter him in Arlington National Cemetery, "buried in the company of soldiers he practically knew," but decide instead to return him to the Wyoming mountain country he loved; in each step of reaching eachdecision, they emerge as people of great principle. So do Childers's fellow Marines, and particularly that young captain, who questions the war in Iraq but nonetheless lobbies hard to be sent to fight there, doing the job he was trained to do. A fine and moving story, full of heroes.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

Shane Comes Home

Chapter One

A Call in the Morning

At 4:30 in the morning on Friday, March 21, 2003, while Americans on the East Coast were waking up to the first news reports about the invasion of Iraq, the commander of a small United States Marine Corps reserve detachment in Billings, Montana, was awakened by an urgent phone call. Later, Captain Kevin Hutchison would recall that he had slept poorly the night before, and not simply because his house was under renovation and he'd spent the night on a spare combat mattress on the hardwood sill of his bedroom bay window. He was also depressed. No marine enjoys being left behind while his fellow officers are fighting overseas, and Hutchison had spent Thursday night watching Nightline and CNN, fitfully dozing off to the images of military convoys massing at the border of Iraq. As the cameras panned south, the long formations of tanks, Humvees, and light armored vehicles thinning off into the sands reminded him of his own humiliating distance from the war. But now the vast terrain between the deserts of Iraq and the Montana high country were about to be joined.

Hutchison was an unusual marine. A suave, worldly Californian -- bookish and sensitive, almost to a fault -- he had nevertheless succeeded brilliantly in the man's-man world of the marine officer corps. At thirty-three, he was one of the marine's most highly rated and youngest captains. Qualified with "expert" rankings in underwater demolition, parachute jumping, reconnaissance, and mountain and river warfare, Hutchison had led rifle platoons in Okinawa and Greece and, because of his fluency in Spanish, drawn several plum assignments in Latin America during the late 1990s. In Peru, where he had spent eighteen months training counter-drug police, he had acquired a stunning Peruvian girlfriend and spent long romantic weekends with her camping out in an elevated, Tarzan-style "jungle-hut" that he had built from driftwood along the broad, sandy banks of a river outside Lima. Blond, rail-thin, as charmingly earnest as he was tough, Hutchison epitomized the sort of glamorous image promoted by those catchy marine recruitment spots -- "The Few. The Proud" -- broadcast during the halftimes of weekend NFL games.

Over the past year, however, Hutchison's dream existence as a globe-trotting marine had come to a dispiriting end. As part of a routine noncombat rotation used to season young officers, he had been assigned to lead the small training battalion in Billings that handled all marine affairs across a broad expanse of the west, a five-state area running from the Dakotas to Idaho. Now his days were filled with the humdrum details of running a military command in backwater Montana -- whipping out-of-shape weekend warrior reservists through training exercises, fielding requests to provide marine details for Memorial Day parades or the openings of new car lots, providing color guards and gun salutes for the funerals of Greatest Generation World War II marines who, with lugubrious regularity, were dying off as the new century progressed.

Indeed, by late March that year, Hutchison's mood had reached a typically conflicted state. He had just returned from a seven-week Winter Mountain Leaders Course at a marine camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe, California. The grueling regimen of forced marches on cross-country skis, winter camping in the peaks, and precision night reconnaissance had left Hutchison feeling strangely refreshed, even euphoric about his marine career. But when he returned to his office inside a modern, low-rise armory on the outskirts of Billings, a mountain of paperwork and personnel hassles had accumulated on his desk. It was grim, getting back to staff work.

Then there was Iraq, of course. Hutchison had his own views about the Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes against perceived enemies like Saddam Hussein, but he was too discreet an officer to express many reservations to his fellow marines. The disquiet he felt was more personal than that. Most of his closet friends in the marines had been deployed to Iraq, and now they were massed along the berms of northern Kuwait in their speedy, light armored vehicles, waiting to head north through the sands for Nasiriya, Najaf and Baghdad. For Hutchison, being left behind in Billings didn't raise issues of machismo or bravery -- he had always disliked the false manhood bravado affected by many marines, just as he distrusted the ritualized patriotism of politicians who invoked the flag while placing soldiers in harm's way. He was tormented, instead, by an intellectual riddle, typical for the highly educated and motivated warrior class of officers attracted to the all-volunteer American military after the draft was abolished in 1973.

He had spent the last nine years, the best of his life, becoming one of the most highly trained military officers of his generation. But he had always been insatiably curious about one thing. Did all this preparation and sacrifice -- the constant moves and reassignments, year after year of physical conditioning, the parachute jumps, underwater dives, mountain rescues in the snow, the endless training classes -- really amount to anything? In the real-time exhaustion and confusion of war could he lead men under fire? The question had nagged him for years and returned as an unresolved agony as the long buildup for Iraq had begun the summer before ...

Shane Comes Home. Copyright © by Rinker Buck. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Rinker Buck is a staff writer for the Hartford Courant and a former reporter for New York magazine, Life, and many other national publications. The article that launched this book won the Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Writing Award and the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award. He is the author of the acclaimed Flight of Passage and First Job and lives in northwest Connecticut.

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