The numbing glow of television tends to distance the viewer from events unfolding in Iraq. What one does see is limited by the government, as the U.S. Senate voted 54–39 two months ago to continue a policy (started under the first President Bush during the first Iraq war) banning photos of returning caskets at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), arguing unsuccessfully during a debate about rescinding that policy, said, “I think we ought to know the casualties of war.”
Yet many in the Flathead, and especially the family of Kane Funke, now know at least one of the casualties of this war all too well.
Kane Funke, a 20-year-old Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, served on the front lines in Iraq. Only a few years back, he was attending Flathead High School.
Two weeks ago, Kane’s mother, Stephanie Funke, was confronted with what every military parent or spouse dreads: an unexpected visit from the Marines.
Kane’s mother learned the same day that her son had died Aug. 13, the victim of a bomb blast in Iraq’s largest province, Al Anbar, which covers much of western Iraq.
After Kane’s body was flown home, a public wake was held Thursday, Aug. 19, at Grogan Funeral Home in Polson.
At the wake, Kane lay inside a partially open, flag-draped casket, dressed in his uniform. He was surrounded by a teddy bear wearing a Marines T-shirt and pictures of loved ones, as well as a handwritten note with his name scrawled on its thin blue lines. Flower arrangements flanked Kane’s casket, one of which was draped with a blue banner reading “United States of America” in silver sparkles. A golden crucifix loomed over the shoulder of Stephanie Funke, who offered tearful hugs to all who came to pay their respects.
The next morning, cars lined the streets outside the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Polson. The Marine honor guard and members of the Salish and Kootenai Veteran Warrior Society stood at attention in front of the church. Bells rang as the Marine pallbearers brought Kane’s casket into the church.
Inside, 300 to 500 people sat solemnly. Father Gary Reller led the service, saying that Kane knew the way of Jesus. Tissues were passed. The priest thanked everyone, including attendant Gov. Judy Martz, for coming.
Kane’s uncle, Eric Funke, told the gathered mourners about his nephew as Kane’s mother and his younger sister, Ashley, struggled to keep their composure.
Eric said that Kane was “born fighting,” with a birth weight of a mere 2 pounds, 6 ounces. He recalled the young boy scampering around the house in his Big Bird pajamas—a boy who, Eric said, knew he wanted to be a Marine since age 8, a boy who had asked his uncle to send some of his old uniforms.
“He came into this world fighting,” Eric said, choking back sobs. “He loved fighting, and he died with honor and pride and dignity, and that’s the way we’ll remember him.”
At the Lakeview Cemetery overlooking Flathead Lake, Kane was laid to rest in the Irish-green grass. His grave, as with the graves of other veterans upon this hill, was encircled by American flags. A Marine played “Taps” on a bugle. Kane’s mother was presented with a neatly folded flag, which she kept on her lap.
Bob Bates, the grandfather of Kane’s best friend, Rick Burke, looked on. He said his grandson would like to be here, but couldn’t get leave from the Bangor, Wash., submarine base at which he’s stationed.
“He’d like to be in Iraq, too,” Bates said of his grandson.
After the funeral, Ronan’s Amelia Durheim and her family waited for the convoy of cars to move so they could leave the cemetery. As they waited beside their Pontiac, they smoked cigarettes, and Amelia cried a little.
Amelia’s husband, Brent Durheim, was in Kane’s unit, and the two had apparently become good friends.
“My husband says he was a really good guy,” said Amelia, 20. “They had planned fishing trips to meet each others’ families in October,” when Kane had been scheduled to return.
“He’s coming back in October, thank God,” said Durheim’s mother-in-law of her son-in-law.
Kane Funke is the fourth Montana soldier who has not returned from Iraq alive. Army 1st Lt. Matthew Saltz, 27, of Bigfork, Pfc. Owen Witt, 20, of Sand Springs and Cpl. Dean Pratt, 22, of Stevensville also died in military service in Iraq. In total, 964 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq as of Aug. 23.
Amelia Durheim hopes and prays that her husband will make it back in October without adding another statistic to the sobering count.
“Kane’s mom told me, ‘At least you won’t have to be doing this,’” Durheim said, looking back toward the burial site with tears welling in her eyes.
In some ways, Kane had written his own eulogy. The funeral program included Kane’s poem, “Hallmark of a Marine,” which reads: “They have no purpose than to defend our country’s soil/Any culture and walk of life/A band of brothers charge into the never-ending strife/Here and there, by and by/A Marine is a Marine until his or her time to die.”
Kane’s time has apparently come, but whether he had no purpose other than to be a Marine, we’ll never know. To Father Reller, that’s what makes Kane’s death so tragic.
“We don’t have the ability to know what he might have become at 20 years old,” Father Reller said at the funeral. “We can only wonder today what he might have become.”