Friday, Oct. 16, 2009

One Death in Afghanistan: Ben Sklaver’s Story

Last week, Laura and Gary Sklaver buried their oldest boy, Ben, who was 32 when killed by a suicide bomber in the remote village of Murcheh in the distant land of Afghanistan. Ben was a captain in the United States Army. Now he has become one of 804 Americans, 37 from Connecticut, to lose their lives in an expanding war that belongs mostly to the parents and families of those who serve a nation preoccupied by a wounded economy and political polarization.

“He didn’t have to go,” Laura Sklaver said the other day. “His obligation was up in May.”

“But he was recalled in March,” Gary Sklaver added. “And he didn’t want to leave his men.”

Ben Sklaver grew up drawn to service. He admired his grandfather who served with Patton’s Army in World War II. He joined ROTC at Tufts, received a Master’s in international relations from the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, was commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserve in 2003 and became convinced that a world consumed with conflict and terror might be changed by Americans bringing clean water, medicine and food as much as by drones, missiles and military might.

Read the rest of Mike’s column at

BARNICLE’S VIEW ON WTKK: David Letterman/Afghanistan

10/05/09: Barnicle talks with Jim Braude and Margery Eegan about David Letterman admitting to having affairs with women who worked for him and the situation in Afghanistan.

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.

BARNICLE’S VIEW ON WTKK: Medal of Honor winner Jared Monti

09/18/09: Barnicle talks about Jared Monti receiving the Medal of Honor yesterday.

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.

BARNICLE’S VIEW ON WTKK: Media coverage of those who sacrifice for our cou...

7/27/09: Barnicle tells the story of Marine Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos, a local 21-year-old man who died recently in Afghanistan, and the minimal newspaper coverage of his and other soldiers’ deaths.

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.


6/17/09: Barnicle talks about the Iran situation and our relationship with the country following their presidential election next week.

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.

BARNICLE’S VIEW ON WTKK: Mike Recommends the Book “Generation Kill&#...

8/22/08: Mike recommends the book “Generation Kill” by Evan Wright

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.

BARNICLE’S VIEW ON WTKK: The High Cost of Gasoline

7/21/08: The high cost of gas prices … and why

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.


6/23/08: The CIA and Al Queda

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.

BARNICLE’S VIEW ON WTKK: Memorial Day and what it means to different peopl...

5/23/08: Memorial Day and what it means to different people.

Listen here:

“Barnicle’s View”, with Mike Barnicle, Imus in the Morning, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 6:55a & 8:55a.

MIKE BARNICLE ON HARDBALL: Is the war in Iraq working?

Mike Barnicle, filling in for Chris Matthews, talks with Brian Katulis and Mike O’Hanlon about the surge in Iraq.


Mike Barnicle, filling in for Chris Matthews on “Hardball,” talks with Sen. Joe Biden about the war in Iraq, General David Petraeus, the Bush administration, Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, and running for President.



May 26, 1998

BELFAST — It is a balmy, lemon-yellow evening and I am standing outside a large glass and cement structure called Waterfront Hall, completed last year along the River Lagan in Belfast where people have the capacity to loathe a stranger based solely on beliefs or a baptism. Community input here means a funeral or a fire, yet it occurs to me that in the middle of shootings and bombings they have managed to achieve something that seems out of reach in Boston: They have built a convention center. Earlier, with the town in the grip of unseasonably warm weather, I am strolling Whiterock Road in West Belfast, reminded again that a hot sun is truly the full moon for the Irish. Half the men out on stoops are nearly naked, their skin the color of boiled lobster claws.

Here is what you can get in the North: An Armalite-rifle. C-2 explosives. A bazooka. Hand grenades. Flamethrowers. Surface-to-air missiles. A majority voting for peace. And here is what you cannot get: Sunblock.

At the intersection of Whiterock and Ballymurphy, Cian Moran is sitting on a milk crate outside his flat. He is wearing a tight blue Speedo bathing suit. He is a heavy man. It is not an attractive sight because his stomach is at war with the elastic waist of the swimsuit and from a distance it appears Moran might be eight months pregnant as he basks alongside his girlfriend, Claire Corrigan, who, incredibly, is not blind.

“Did you bring any of that Viagra with you from America?” Moran wants to know. “That would do the boys a world of good, wouldn’t it luv? That’s the worst moment of a man’s life, failing in bed. I vote yes for Viagra.”

“Worse moment of your life was when the Park View was shut for repairs,” Corrigan tells him, referring to a bar alongside Milltown Cemetery.

That cemetery serves as sort of a huge community center for a people raised on funerals and sad farewells. The caretaker, Sean Armstrong, talks about it as if he were the curator of a macabre Hall of Fame, pointing out where various people’s remains lie, how they died, and whether they were on “active duty” when they fell in the long fight against England.

“Oh, cemeteries are big stuff in Ireland,” Monsignor Denis Faul points out. “Big stuff.”

So are priests. In the absence of a true, old-fashioned political network, priests are a combination of state reps and city councilors who are wired throughout their parishes. Nothing happens without their knowledge. Not a birth. A death. A fight, a plot, a prayer, or a promise. Nothing!

Back in Holy Trinity Church, Mary Kelly sat with bowed head a few days prior to the biggest event in her life. She is 91 and could barely wait to cast a ballot for the future last Friday.

“Not so much for me but for the younger people,” she observed. “People like my son.”

“How old is your son?” she was asked.

“70,” she replied.

In one day, she sat through two Masses, a First Communion, and a gypsy wedding. The church is actually her second home. It is a quiet haven from the horrors that have stalked the old lady’s neighborhood for at least 30 years, filling the streets around her with an awful sadness and a nearly constant violence that leveled off only in the past three years but now, with a tremendous “Yes” vote, could actually recede to the point where children born today could assume a normal childhood tomorrow.

That sound — laughter — remains the hallmark of a resilient people who have survived a horrible history due, in some small measure, to the safety net provided by their own sense of humor. Their city and country have been mangled by murder and bigotry, but the people are still standing, some of them even hopeful, in a place progressive enough to vote for peace as well as build a convention center that can’t get off the ground back in Boston.

MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: Prejudice from a pulpit


May 18, 1998

BELFAST — Ian Paisley stood yesterday at the pulpit of a fairly new church in order to preach ancient hatred to a dwindling congregation of old people, afraid they might be losing their future on Friday. Paisley, besides being a politician who prospered over the years on a platform built with bigotry, is minister at Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, which is directly across the street from the 12th fairway of the Ormeau Golf Club.

Yesterday morning, promptly at 11:30, Paisley climbed the steps of a high pulpit inside his modern church, where no more than 50 men and women sat scattered through the huge double-decked arena waiting for word on what to do this week when Ireland votes on a referendum that could end decades of unreasonable death. He is a big man with a huge head covered with a shock of white hair. He has thick lips, strong hands, and a booming voice, and all were employed yesterday to push his faithful followers toward rejection of work done by George Mitchell, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gerry Adams. “I had a confrontation the other day with a very nasty journalist,” Paisley shouted. “He asked me why I always say, `No,’ and I told him that God gave us 10 commandments and He said no in nine of them.

“The body says `no’ to germs or it will die. The soul says `no’ to sin or it dies too. And we must say `no’ Friday or our nation dies.”

Paisley built a constituency as well as a congregation around themes of contempt, revenge, and pure, raw anti-Catholicism. Yet, as election day nears, his grip on Protestant East Belfast — where many are poor and tired of visiting cemeteries or jails — seems weaker than ever.

“He’s a faker, he is,” Freddy Wilson was saying. “He’s only trying to keep himself in power now. He led us up the top of the mountain years ago, telling us all the time the Catholics would never get this and they’d never get that. And oh, how he hated the pope! But Protestants got just as tired of all the killing as Catholics did. Old Paisley, he just never changed. He’s still in it for himself, is all.”

Wilson is a 37-year-old unemployed dock worker and a Protestant. He stood at the bar of the Park View Lounge down the road from Paisley’s church, where the politician-preacher was merely halfway through a Sunday schedule of prayer meetings and speeches where his words become weapons hurled at anyone who favors peace. Paisley’s version of religion is simply prejudice from a pulpit; his sermons are cold and cruel and leave no room for any of the forgiveness found across town yesterday where 15,000 Catholics gathered at Milltown Cemetery for the annual blessing of the graves. How utterly Irish.

Milltown is a huge burial ground off Falls Road. Ten years ago, several people were killed here during a funeral for three unarmed Irish Republican Army members shot to death by British security forces in Gibraltar. Yesterday, the place was teeming with relatives saying the rosary in unison under a hot sun on Belfast’s version of Memorial Day, where the past is never farther away than the very next sentence out of someone’s mouth and where every headstone is a marble memory of a son, brother, uncle, or father lost in a long, weary war.

“My Tommy died two days after his 24th birthday,” Tom Kelly said about his son. “He was stabbed to death downtown by Protestants. They caught someone for it but nothing ever happened. My wife took a heart attack from it, and she died too. She’s over there.” He pointed past a row of granite Celtic crosses toward his wife’s grave. “So it has to be `yes’ Friday, doesn’t it? Otherwise it’s back to the same old thing.”

And as one crowd seemed comforted by hymns and rosary beads, Ian Paisley was across the river getting ready for the ritual of his evening sermon, where he twists prayer into a polemic and faith is defined by the depth of a parishioner’s fear. His thunderous hate has always been the beating heart of so many Protestants, but this week that thunder seems, more and more, to be off in the distance and part of a past that people on both sides want to bury.


A regal funeral closer to home

Mike Barnicle, Globe Staff

7 September 1997

The Boston Globe

Long before yesterday’s funeral began, a huge crowd assembled inside the magnificent church where everyone gathered in a crush of sadness over the death of a sparkling young mother who touched many lives before she was killed in a horrific car crash a week ago, across the ocean, far from home. Mourners came in such numbers that they spilled out the doors of St. Theresa’s Church, onto the sidewalk, and across Centre Street in West Roxbury as police on motorcycles and horseback led two flower-cars and three hearses to the front of a beautiful church filled now with tears and memory.

Yesterday, the wonderful world of Mary Beatty Devane was on display to bury her along with two of her daughters — Elaine, 9, and Christine, 8 — who also lost their lives on a wet road east of Galway City as they headed to Shannon Airport at the conclusion of their vacation. Her husband, Martin, their daughter Brenda, 5, and their son Michael, 2, survived the accident and, after the hearses halted at the curb, Martin Devane emerged from a car, his entire being bent, injured, and slowed by the enormous burden of his tragic loss.

The Devanes represent one of the many anonymous daily miracles of this city’s life. They lived around the corner from where Mary grew up in a house headed by her father, Joe Beatty, the president of Local 223, Laborers Union, who arrived in Boston decades back from the same Irish village, Rusheenamanagh, where Mary’s husband, Martin, was born.

He is a construction worker. She was a nurse. They were married 11 years and their life together cast a contagious glow across their church and their community.

Now, on a splendid summer Saturday, when the world paused for a princess, up the street they came to cry for Mary Theresa Beatty and her children. There were nuns and priests, cops and carpenters, plumbers, teachers, firefighters, and nurses side-by-side with farmers who flew in from rocky fields an ocean away. A global village of friends inside a single city church.

Bagpipes played while 16 pallbearers gently removed three caskets from the steel womb of the hearses. The weeping crowd formed a long corridor of hushed grief as the caskets were carried up the steps and down the aisle toward 17 priests who waited to apply the balm of prayer to the wounded mourners.

Mary Devane worked weekend nights in the emergency room at Faulkner Hospital. When she was not there, she was either caring for her own family or tending to the dying as a hospice nurse.

During her 31 years on earth, she was many things: wife, mother, daughter, sister, nurse, neighbor, healer, helper, compassionate companion to the suffering, angel of mercy for the ill, smiling friend to an entire community that stood yesterday in collective silence in a church cluttered with broken hearts.

As the pallbearers transported their precious cargo, 22 boys and girls from St. Theresa’s Children’s Choir rose alongside the parish choir to sing “Lord of All Hopefulness.” No cameras or celebrities were present — simply the pastor, the Rev. William Helmick, along with all the others there to celebrate a life lived well and taken too soon.

The 70-year-old church swayed with psalm, hymn, and gospel; with the “Ave Maria”; with voices of youngsters struggling to sing for their classmates Christine and Elaine, who had been scheduled to start third and fourth grade at St. Theresa’s grammar school, 50 yards away.

Larry Reynolds stood in the choir loft, high above the congregation. With strong, rough carpenter’s hands, he gently held a fiddle and began to play “The Culan,” a 400-year-old Gaelic song. As communion commenced below, each of his notes echoed a tear throughout the immense stone building.

Reynolds himself is from the County Galway village of Ahascragh. He has known both families, the Beattys and the Devanes, for 30 years, and after he finished, Mary Twohig, a nursing school classmate of Mary Devane, walked slowly to the podium to recite “A Nurse‘s Prayer” and share an elegant eulogy with all those devastated by these three deaths.

Then, the Mass ended. Incense caressed the air as the pallbearers retreated through the church and out to those hearses idling at the curb before the big crowd drove off in thick traffic for the sad trip to St. Joseph’s Cemetery, where Mary Beatty Devane and her two precious little girls were set to final rest, three members of a truly royal family.


MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: The relics of our might


September 4, 1985

AN HOA, Vietnam – Liberty Bridge straddles a bend of the Phu Bon river where the flat, brown water ends at the edge of shoulder-high grass that stretches toward the distant horizon and the tall black mountains that run all the way to Laos. The bridge, in the heart of Quang Nam province about 25 miles southwest of DaNang, was built by the Americans in 1968 and destroyed by bombing in 1970.

Seventeen years ago, fierce fighting turned the area into a free-fire zone, causing people to flee the land and the rice fields that sit under a brutal sun. Now, the relics of our might rest under a swift current that swirls over chunks of concrete and the rusted steel shell of a Tiger Tank buried in 10 feet of water by time and war. “Many men died here,” Pham Dinh Dan was saying. “When I come here now, I can still hear the noise of the planes and the guns and the screams of the men who died.”

Today, Pham Dinh Dan is 44 years old. When he was a younger man, he served with the 91st Sapper Battalion, regular Viet Cong forces who fought the Marines near the narrow corridors of orange sand that weave in and out of the tall, yellow grass that borders the river banks.

“There was compassion on both sides of the battle,” he was saying. “We had a bitter hatred for the American government that sent men here, but there were times when we would see a soldier killed and his friend would be crying over his body and I would stop firing.”

Pham Dinh Dan was standing by the skeleton of the bridge and talking to a group of American veterans who had been invited back to Vietnam in August. He has a strong face and warm, brown eyes that give a life to his words beyond any interpreter’s translation.

“How old were you when you became a soldier?” Ernie Washington, an American who fought in 1967, asked him.

“I was 17,” he answered.

“Do you have any children?” Tom Vallely, another veteran, who served in 1969, wanted to know.

“I have a son who is 16,” said Pham Dinh Dan.

“I bet he’s smart, just like his father,” Vallely added.

“No,” Pham Dinh Dan said in a soft voice. “He is not so smart. He is not smart at all, really.

“You see, 16 days after he was born, my wife and my baby had to flee this area when the Americans raided our village near Que Son. They had to go into the jungles to live and it was very hard on them.”

“They were sprayed by the chemicals many times while they were in the jungles. He was very young then, and the chemicals had an effect on him. So he is not so smart now,” he said, pausing for a moment. “But he is a good boy.”

To his right, on the north bank of the river, there is a small open shack covered with a tin roof where once there had been a Marine bunker. Three women and two small children sat in the shade provided by the roof and asked the vistors for cigarettes.

“Our job was to destroy the fire base because there were so many big guns here directed at the area. Big guns. Eight-inch guns that we did not have,” he was saying. “We lost many men, but we kept on with our jobs because we were fighting for our own land.

“Many years ago we fought the Chinese here. Then we fought the French. Then the Americans came and we fought them, too. We would have fought forever.

“But when the Chinese and the French and the Americans left, they left behind all the machinery of war. They left many weapons and guns. And they left long-lasting poverty, too.

“I think that without all those wars and all the battles we would have been able to build an economy here. Now it is very poor and many people still die because of all the unexploded mines left behind.”

“Since 1975, we have lost 1,500 people in this province alone from bombs and mines, ” Pham Dinh Dam said. “After the war, we had a clearing operation and we were able to put away 65,000 bombs and mines and booby traps, but from time to time they still explode and kill people out in the fields. Like you, it will be a long, long time before we can finally overcome the consequences of war.”

At the jagged edge of the bombed-out bridge, a few initials and a date had been scratched into the cement when it was poured 17 summers ago. Both the Vietnamese and the Americans bent down to look at what had been written:”MCB, Charley Company, 6-14-68.”

“That seems like a long, long time ago,” said Ernie Washington.

“Yes,” Pham Dinh Dam agreed. “I wish we could have talked like this before we started the war.