After the news of a U.S. soldier charged with murdering Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, the story of Spc. Dennis Weichel of the Rhode Island National Guard bears telling.
The official Pentagon news release says he died "from injuries suffered in a noncombat related incident." But there is much more to the story. Weichel, 29, of Providence, died saving the life of a little girl.
According to the Rhode Island National Guard and the U.S. Army, Weichel was in a convoy a week ago with his unit in Laghman Province, in northeast Afghanistan. Some children were in the road in front of the convoy, and Weichel and other troops got out to move them out of the way.
Most of the children moved, but one little girl went back to pick up some brass shell casings in the road. Afghan civilians often recycle the casings, and the girl appeared to aim to do that. But a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle was moving toward her, according to Lt. Col. Denis Riel of the Rhode Island National Guard.
MRAPs, as they are known, usually weigh more than 16 tons.
Weichel saw massive truck bearing down on the girl and grabbed her out of the way. But in the process, the armored truck ran him over, Riel said.
The little girl is fine. Weichel died a short time later of his injuries.
Spc. Dennis Weichel's final act did not prove he was a hero but a human being. What he did was normal, human. It really is in all of us to react in this way even for the benefit of a stranger, and particularly for a young stranger. When the soldier saw the child was about to be crushed, he was more the child than the child was itself. The Afghani girl did not understand or know death (the absolute master) was right next to her. If she had properly understood or known this, she would have acted in a way that showed she was indeed herself. But at the perilous moment, most herself was not in her but in the soldier. He become her; she saved her.
You have to admire (even worship) the beauty of this aspect of human sociality. In certain situations—when one is a clueless child or simply gone mad—another person can be us, can think and act for us. Other humans are our guardian angels.