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.
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About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Shane Comes Home
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Shane Childers was my classmate at The Citadel. Super-dedicated professional warrior and scholar.
This book is one of the finest tributes to our soldiers that I have ever read. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is serving, has served in the military or is just interested in the life of a military person. "Shane Comes Home" is the true story of the life of a young marine and how he evolved into an officer serving with the first wave of Marines into Iraq and lost his life in that initial assault. The story spends more time on the life and times of this young man growing up and his family and their values than it does on his death. It also spends a great deal of time describing another branch of the military that we rarely hear about, the CACO, Casualty Assistance Calls Officer. The important role that is their specialty, an emotionally draining and tremendously devastating job is well explained and brings their human-ness to the foreground. They are Marines, but they are people, also. I would highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down.
Having known Shane personally, I am amazed at how Rinker Buck was able to capture all of Shane's qualities in the manner and pure talent that only someone who truly believes in the subject of his writting can. This is a story of a true hero, a passionate and inteses man who served his country with great pride. It captures Shanes biggest passion in life; The Marine Corps and his endless thirst for knowledge and appreciation of everything that crossed his path. Shane died doing the very thing that gave him the desire to live. Serving his country and leading his men. This book is a true testament of this unique man who lived a short yet full life that only very few get to experience.
I could not put this book down. Buck's abnility to paint word pictures is fantastic. I was 'there' as I read this book.
In Rinker Buck's new book, Shane Comes Home, the voices of Lieutenant Shane Childers will be with you long after reading this stunning hero's personal journey. As both an advisor to a high school Class of 1990, and as a former teacher of the Department of Defense Overseas Schools, I related to Shane's life within so many facets. He was definitely a man who was a leader: an explorer, a lover of nature, who had an appreciation of the world. No matter where he laid his hat, he strove to be the best, to learn, and to excel. Be it working in the embassies or consulates in Geneva, Paris and Nairobi, Kenya, to the deserts of the Middle East, where he met his ultimate fate of being the first soldier killed in Iraq, the character of Shane Childers, and the people of Powell, Wyoming, will linger in your thoughts. What stays with me most is that Shane was a member of the Class of 1990, graduating from high school in Gulfport, Mississippi. My class is now about to embark on their 15th reunion. I dedicate this review to Shane and all of the members of the class, worldwide, who are no longer with your classmates. I highly recommend Rinker Buck's beautifully written journal to all who would like to have more insight into a young man whose essence of accomplishing so much within his 30 years, was maximized. To those who would like to know the inner workings of the brave Marines, especially Captain Kevin Hutchison, and First Sergeant Barry Morgan, who had to deliver delicate news to Mr. and Mrs. Childers, and who stayed with the family throughout the 10 day period, when Shane came home to be buried. I commend Rinker Buck for his sensitive words on such a controversial subject as the current war.
I feel the author did not research the family well, if he had he would have known Judy Childers better. We were raised in Weston, Idaho, by the time Judy was 13, both of her parents were dead. The Rose family never found her stoic behavior abnormal, yes she had to be strong. One better be. The reason Shane, Sam and Sandy , all, are decent and loving people is due to Alma and Wilton Childers and Douglas and Mae Rose's influence on Joe and Judy The main character, Shane, was not embellished. He lived that life. It was like this star in the sky, suddenly it shot up, you lost sight of it, then there was this huge brilliant color, and it all drifted to earth. He is greatly missed.