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Connecting to the Reality of War: One Princeton Family's Story

Stuart Mitchner

A 27-year-old Princeton-born, Princeton-educated marine narrowly escaped death earlier this month in "the other war," the one in Afghanistan.

The marine is 1st Lt. Mark Reinhardt. His parents, Princeton residents May and Uwe Reinhardt, believe that his story should be shared with the community because, they write, "it is so rarely reported that there remains an active war in Afghanistan." Their son was wounded while on patrol near the Pakistan border in Paktika province, which has remained an active combat zone since 2001, when the U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in Kabul. Lt. Reinhardt and another marine were leading a platoon of Afghan soldiers on patrol when their Humvee was hit by a road mine buried there by Taliban insurgents. The marine who had been driving the Humvee, Gunnery Sgt. Theodore Clark, was killed instantly.

Shortly before his son was wounded, Uwe Reinhardt, who is the James Madison professor of political economy at Princeton University's Wilson School, and one of the nation's leading authorities on health care economics, published a stern assessment of the economics of the "ongoing twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan" in the Washington Post. It was titled "Who's Paying for Our Patriotism?"

Mark Reinhardt attended Princeton Day School and the Lawrenceville School, where he was captain of the wrestling team and news editor of The Lawrence. In the landmark year, 2001, he graduated from Princeton University with a degree in economics. He did not drift into military service. He knew what he wanted to do. Having been in ROTC at Princeton, he joined the Marine Corps as an officer. According to his father, he would have joined with or without the incentive of September 11. "He's always had a strong, independent mind," Prof. Reinhardt said.

Asked if he and his wife had met with any other area families with children in either war, Prof. Reinhardt recalled only Robert and Lynn Johnson, whose son is an Army Ranger in Iraq. He went on to mention, however, that when his son was serving as forward artillery observer with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion of the 1st Marine Divison during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was pleasantly surprised to find that a friend and fellow ROTC member of the Class of 2001, Campbell Donovan, was serving there at the same time.


The Reinhardts recently flew at their own expense to be with their son at the U.S. Army Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. He had seven broken ribs and a punctured lung. According to his mother, May Tsung-mei Cheng, a health service researcher and host of a televised forum at the International Center, the most emotionally draining moment of the ordeal was when she had to ask about his injuries. "The policy is for the wounded soldiers to answer that question for themselves," she said. Of course she feared the worst and, given the nature of the explosion, she half-expected to hear him say he had lost limbs. Next to that, seven broken ribs sounded almost reasonable. The force of the blast had ripped the door off the hinges on the Humvee's passenger side and hurled Lt. Reinhardt some 20 feet through the air. "Truly, miraculously," as his parents put it, "he survived the blast with all of his limbs intact."

Meanwhile, back in the States, Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President Bush's ranch was the focus of worldwide attention, and two weeks ago in Princeton, several hundred people were showing support for Ms. Sheehan by holding a candlelight vigil in Palmer Square.

Asked what his son thought about the movement against the war, Prof. Reinhardt said that whenever the subject came up, Mark would not talk about it. It was a matter of family honor, in this case, the Marine family. "Marines don't discuss politics," he told them.

Lt. Reinhardt was in Afghanistan because he chose to be there. It was his third combat deployment in as many years. After serving during the invasion of Iraq with the 1st Marine Division, which fought all the way from Kuwait to Tikrit, he was deployed there again in 2004, commanding a platoon whose task was to protect supply convoys in the Sunni Triangle. He could have left the service after the second deployment. What drew him to Afghanistan was a wish to train the Afghan troops so that in time the Americans could come home. He also hoped to have a hand in helping develop a medical clinic ‹ no surprise perhaps, since his father has been studying and lecturing on the U.S. health care system for two decades.

In the Washington Post article, Prof. Reinhardt communicated passionate authority when he wrote of the 500,000 American troops at risk of being deployed to either of the war theaters at some time. "Assume that for each of them some 20 members of the wider family sweat with fear when they hear that a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan or that X number of soldiers or marines were killed or seriously wounded in Iraq." His point, however, was not to dramatize the wider family's anguish but to point out how few of us actually feel it: "No more than 10 million Americans have any real emotional connection to these wars."

Prof. Reinhardt described how it felt when his family would hear a morning newscaster announce "five marines were killed by a roadside bomb" in an area where their son was stationed. It might not be until the evening news, many long hours later, before the names of the dead were given. "You feel such relief," he said. "Then you think of the families of the ones who died and feel guilty for feeling it." Lt. Reinhardt's parents clearly hope that the "emotional connection" has achieved a measure of reality here in Princeton now that they have told their story.

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