Sunday, February 06, 2005

Iraqi's gift comforts grieving Marine parents

Iraqi's gift comforts grieving Marine parents

Lance Cpl. Allan Klein, 34, was one of 31 U.S. service members killed Jan. 26 when his troop transport helicopter crashed in Iraq. They were part of a team providing security in the run-up to that country’s first free election in decades.

Today at 11 a.m., Klein’s parents will say good-bye to their son at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Roseville. They needed a place to hold a luncheon after the service, and on Monday, they called Athena Banquet Center on Gratiot.

They didn’t know then that Youil Ishmail, who owns the Roseville hall, had voted the day before in the very election Klein gave his life to secure. They didn’t know that, at age 46, the man everyone calls Louie had for the first time been able to freely choose the leadership in the land of his birth.

So when Ishmail heard it was the mother of a slain Marine on the phone Monday, he didn’t hesitate.

“This Marine give his life for me to go and vote,” he said. “This is the least I can give this lady, just to give her some comfort.

“I tell her, ‘Everything. I will take care of everything. It doesn’t matter how many come.’ “

Klein's mother, Rae Oldaugh, was stunned.

"That was the second time I broke down and cried about Allan," Oldaugh said. "The first time, of course, was when the Marines came and told me. ... It just kind of overwhelmed me, the generosity, that someone would do such a generous thing."

Ishmail has his own ideas about who was generous.

"I have kids, and you watch them grow up, and one day you hear that they got killed, not in your homeland, but away, away from home?" Ishmail said. "That's the saddest part. They're doing something that's good for the people of a different country, different religion, different culture. So far away from home."

Ishmail has been far away from home since former President Saddam Hussein's regime chased him out of Baghdad, where he had been studying management and economics at Baghdad University. He grew up in Mosul after his family was forced from their village, Beit Noor, in northern Iraq.

His people are Assyrian, a Christian minority long hounded by Iraq's ruling Baath Party.

"All of our life there, we live in fear and always worry about the government," Ishmail said. "They ... come after you for no reason. They knock on your door, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock in the morning, to take you away for questioning because somebody said something about you."

So in 1979, with Hussein taking control of Iraq, Ishmail left everything behind and fled to Jordan. A couple of months later, he landed in Detroit, officially a refugee.
Hussein's security forces kept hounding his relatives after he left, Ishmail said. His father was jailed for a while, but eventually the family escaped. Most came to America.

"This is my home, my new home," said Ishmail, who became a U.S. citizen in 1991. "I miss Iraq, yes, because Iraq is a good country ... the incubator of civilization. The first people to write the law came from Iraq, and the first library. ... To be so behind now, it's really a sin."

Nevertheless, he remains "very optimistic" about his homeland's future, despite its problems. Its people are educated, he said, and they believe in freedom.

"You saw the election," said Ishmail, who donned traditional Assyrian garb and drove to Southgate to cast his ballot. In Iraq, "people -- crippled, sick, blind, you know -- they come to the polling place. They sacrifice their life, just to vote."

That's proof Iraqis will take care of themselves, he said.

"Just give them a little backup, until they can stand on their own feet," he said. "Because 35 years of dictatorship, it ain't going to go away in one day or two years. It's going to take time."

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