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Last summer a number of Chico City Council meetings began with a proclamation of debt and gratitude from the city and were read by the mayor to a soldier who either just came home or was on break from Iraq. Mayor Maureen Kirk’s maternal feelings would get the better of her each time, and she would get weepy as she read the proclamation. Who could blame her? Councilmember Larry Wahl, a Vietnam vet, would help out with the ceremony, talking about favorite weapons and the excitement of war, while the young soldier’s family looked on proudly. The soldiers themselves would offer little snippets of the action they saw. One guy said he flew on a helicopter with newshound Geraldo Rivera. These were decent and completely appropriate affairs celebrating fine people, and they set a positive tone for the meetings that would follow. We were all proud of these hometown heroes and glad they were back safe with their families. You could almost hear the fireworks and the oompah band playing patriotic favorites in the park square.

But I couldn’t get away from the nagging thought of what would happen, as was almost inevitable, when one of these young soldiers came home missing a limb or worse. What would the emotions be? We found out this week when the council acknowledged the Dec. 5 death of 20-year-old Arron Clark of Chico. Clark was on a convoy mission in Baghdad when an “improvised explosive device” detonated. According to the Department of Defense, Clark was assigned to the 440th Signal Battalion, 22nd Signal Brigade, V Corps, based in Darmstadt, Germany. Two Iraqi civilians also died in the attack, and another 13 were wounded.

Strange how much more immediate and starkly real the war becomes when it crashes into the council chambers this way, and you find yourself watching the sad family members of a dead soldier given a proclamation from a teary-eyed mayor and a solemn-faced council member—a veteran from another horrible war, now fading into the fog of time. Clark was killed seven months after President Bush declared “mission accomplished.” He was not slain during our victorious invasion of Iraq; he was killed by “insurgents” as the media, obeying the military spin, have come to call America’s enemies there. Clark was performing the ill-defined maintenance part of the war.

After the proclamation was given, the 10 or so family members and friends of Arron Clark, good people in flannel shirts and baseball caps, left the chambers together, paused in the foyer, bundled up against the cold outside and exited the building. It was beginning to rain.

Ted Sandberg, a local pastor and police chaplain, then gave another proclamation, this one called “A Season for Non-violence.” The irony of the timing was not lost on Sandberg, who noted, “This is the reason we work for non-violence. When we see the likes of young men like Arron Clark die violent deaths throughout the world.”

Somebody sent us this exclusive photo of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin feeding one of his favorite crocs. I guess these mighty reptiles can be pretty tame.