From Crater to Paradise

Another local soldier is mourned.

Nick Bloem, his family at his heels, came out into the heat and sunshine one last time. Six U.S. Marines lifted his casket from the gurney and settled it into the black hearse, ready for the ride to Tahoma National Cemetery. The family was still filing out—a long procession of aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, Bloem's parents, his eight sisters, and his twin brother. Earlier on this Monday, Aug. 15, a woman had come to the microphone at First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Renton and said she never knew Nick and didn't know the parents, Al and Debbie. But she was the mother of Army Spc. Christopher Dickison, 26, a platoon leader killed by a roadside bomb July 5 in Baqubah, Iraq. Like Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Bloem, 20, who was killed by a roadside bomb Aug. 3, Chris Dickison of West Seattle also had a twin, came from a big family, and had a sweetheart awaiting his return. "We buried him one month ago today," Dickison's mother said, and she went back to her seat.

Dickison was the 1,747th American soldier to die in Iraq, and Nick Bloem was No. 1,778. Born in Bellevue, homeschooled, later attending a Christian school in Kent, he joined the military at 18. The day after celebrating his 20th birthday, Bloem was one of 14 Marines killed south of Haditha when a massive bomb erupted. It flipped the armored assault vehicle, leaving a hole in the earth and in hearts back home. "He went from that crater," said a man at Bloem's funeral, "to paradise." Ten of the Marines were from Ohio's Lima Company, the Lucky Limas, to which Bloem had been attached. "He was as much Lima as anybody else," Cpl. Chad Watkins told The New York Times. That was Nick, said those at his service. He befriended others, cared profoundly for family, lived a devout life, and called home often. "We're making a difference," he told a friend July 15, "but we can't leave yet."

On the day Bloem was buried, Iraqi officials failed again to draft a constitution, further delaying a U.S. pullout. Enjoying a five-week vacation in Texas, George Bush saluted "the heroic efforts of Iraqi negotiators." In preceding days he went to a Little League game and a Republican fund-raiser. He could not be in Renton, where several kids in the church nursery watched Bloem's service through the windows, while other children were distracted by the stuffed animals. That's how the war is for adults, as well. Some participate, others are at play.

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