Canadian writer depicts U.S. soldier’s journey home from war

Sgt. Joe (Joey) Montgomery was the first soldier from Scott County, in Scottsburg, Ind., to die in Iraq. His body was greeted at the airport by those who loved and knew him.

There was no eulogy at Montgomery’s funeral. Perhaps he didn’t need one.

The story of his death and return to the U.S. came to light in a story by Esquire writer Chris Jones, from Port Hope, Ont.

“It was a really hard story,” Jones said. “It was all dark. None of it was fun. After eight months of talking to 101 people, you take it all in. There’s a cost to it. It takes a toll. It almost broke me, but I’m really proud of it.”

Jones offered insights on the creation of his story, The Things That Carried Him, about the journey Montgomery’s body took from Iraq, to journalism students at Centennial College, yesterday, during the college’s Remembrance Week observances.

Jones’ 17,000-word story won the 2009 National Magazine Award for feature writing. The story brought readers close to the Montgomery family: his mother, Gail, his brother, Micah, his wife Miss, his children, Skyla, Robert Joe and Ella, and the rest of his family. It showed readers Montgomery was more than a statistic.

“Everything was being reduced to numbers,” Jones said. “Joey’s story was a way to say this is one man, one family and that American story has happened 4,000 times over and over again.”

Jones offered details in the story to evoke emotion in readers.

“The mortician assigned to Sergeant Montgomery put him back together as best as he could,” Jones wrote in the story. “It was noted that his remains were incomplete. (Not long after, as is customary, someone from the Army would call Gail at home in Scottsburg and ask: If more of her son were discovered and subsequently identified at the Port Mortuary, would she like those missing pieces returned to her? She declined.)”

It may have been uncomfortable to write, but Jones believed in what he was writing.

“If I hadn’t reported as hard as I did, it would be doing an injustice to Joey, and to his family, and to the story of all the dead,” he said.