The Words of the Lowen Family
Our Soldier, Our Son - Sgt. Aliso Emmanuel Lowen, USA
Albany N.Y., USA
Sgt. Aliso Emmanuel Lowen with his father, John Gordon Lowen, on base in Ft. Meade. MD. Shortly after this photo was taken Aliso received his discharged orders and returned to the West Coast.
Maybe it’s because he is an only child who really, really wanted younger siblings, but never got them. Or maybe caring for the young, the defenseless, the unprotected has always been a calling for him. I recall our son, Aliso Emmanuel, reaching out as a five-year-old to take care of smaller children, worrying about whether they got lunch, if he was walking too fast for them to keep up. He would put a protective arm around a wandering toddler that somehow separated from his mother and calm that child until he found his family. He took extra snacks to school, so that a child whose mother may have forgotten to send something would have a special treat. And his one battle in school was to keep the school bully from picking on smaller children.
That kind of kid inevitably goes into the protective services.
I always thought he would go into politics, because he was always able to wangle whatever he wanted out of me. What a senator -- what a president I thought he would make. I envisioned myself as kind of like a Rose Kennedy or a Ruth Carter Stapleton, watching my son give his Inaugural speech. My husband thought he would become a lawyer, because of his ability to argue any point he felt right about until his opponent threw up his hands in frustration.
Aliso is a beautiful man, though he would blush to hear me say it. And he is a brilliant man. A certifiable genius, he knew more than most of his teachers, and sometimes, as one said, they would just sit back and let him give the real history of Thermopylae or discuss the real reason the League of Nations never came to be. He is also tender, modest, gentle, and sweet.
All of those traits masked the warrior’s heart that beat within his chest.
Aliso Emmanuel Lowen in October 2006, with a copy of his paternal grandfather’s book, Dichotomies of the Mind, a text the late Dr. Walter Lowen wrote while Dean of Engineering at the Watson School of Engineering at SUNY-Binghamton University, a department he founded. Upon his death the University held a service to honor him, at which time as his grandson, Aliso received a commemorative plaque.
We lived for a time in Beacon, New York, a town of ten thousand or less people, if one did not count the prisoners in the nearby state facilities. The town was large enough to be on the map, but small enough to provide natural habitats for deer, wild turkeys, and other edible forest creatures.
Just about every kid in the neighborhood owned a hunting rifle or wanted a hunting rifle. Aliso was no exception, and as it seemed wiser to let him learn how to use one properly than to risk his sneaking off to play with someone else’s and wounding himself or some other child in the process, we (reluctantly) agreed to allow him to take the gun classes the park rangers provided for kids once they were twelve years old.
I tried to think of alternatives to lure him away from gun lore, which he was now poring over with far more fervor than he was with his geometry assignments. When Aliso chose to study something, he absorbed it through every pore in his body. He chewed on it, swallowed it, and marked its passage through his alimentary canal. That was his behavior with guns.
He knew everything there was to know about trajectories and calibers and barrel widths. I thought a bow and arrow might distract him. We gifted him with a compound bow, which he merrily did target practice with in the backyard, but when I suggested that he surely did not need a gun, now that he could hunt with this nice bow and arrow, he stared at me, horrified.
"You want me to shoot a deer," he said, "with a bow and arrow?" he said, his voice incredulous. He then sat me down and explained what a bow and arrow did to an animal. "Believe me," he said, "a gun is far more humane!"
He got a rifle, which he diligently oiled and husbanded. We bought a lock for it, and when it wasn’t actually in use, it lived under our bed.
John and I, if the truth is to be told, are pacifists. The one day I followed my parents’ direction that I come straight home after school, the person I was supposed to visit was shot in the head and killed instantly by a family friend who didn’t know the gun was loaded.
Had I not obeyed my family, the first person through the door would have been I. And when I went on a Catholic retreat years later, a group of drunken mountain men surrounded our prayer walk group and brandished loaded rifles in our faces. Enough! As for John, he drew a high number in the draft lottery back in the Vietnam days, and didn’t fight it.
So neither of us even considered the possibility of going hunting with him. He had a school buddy whose dad and uncle were hunters, and we told him he could go with them, if he could get himself up at 4:00 in the morning to go out with them. We then went to bed, confident that he would still be in bed clutching his pillow when we rose the next morning.
But he wasn’t. 4:00 found him up, showered, dressed (in a cool camouflage outfit), fed, and out the door. He came home full of war stories, that grew with each successive trip to the woods: the turkey he almost bagged, the incredible twelve-point stag that leapt out of the woods right in front of him when he’d gone back to the car without his rifle, the doe he had in his sights -- aww, but it was pregnant.
One day he actually came home with a squirrel tail. He swore some unfortunate creature was out there without enough ballast to stay on a tree limb. I wonder -- In fact, we never ate a single morsel of meat from his forays into the forest. Not a steak. Not a stew. Not even a shish kebab. "I gave the meat to Mike and his dad," he would say. Or, "There wasn’t much to the animal. We ate it on the spot." Whatever.
Aliso Finds a Vocation
He announced his intention to become a policeman one day as we drove toward the mall. It seemed the army recruiter and the police force recruiter had shown up on the same day, and they had concocted for the kids a scenario in which they could join the Army right out of high school, serve two years, and enter Police Academy when they turned nineteen. Aliso thought it was a capital idea. We did not.
In fact, we were about to pull up stakes entirely, and move our family to Argentina. We planned to live there forever. As he was graduating at sixteen, we put him on a plane to Chung Pyung, where he enquired earnestly at the Tree of Love whether he should go into the army and the police force. "The angels didn’t say ‘no’, he said when we picked him up at the airport.
Now he started to take on the trappings of a soldier and a policeman. He sheared his beautiful curly hair and wore it as closely cropped as he could. He hand-lettered ‘U.S. Army on his book covers. He began running a quarter of a mile, and then upped it to a mile, then to three miles daily, because he heard that was the Army requirement. Any piece of camouflage fabric that adorned a piece of cloth he bought. He began studying the Civil Service examination for policemen.
We convinced him to wait a while: to establish his family, get a college education in criminal justice, and then look into a police career, thinking, ‘Ha, ha! He’ll get distracted. He’ll have a couple of kids and then realize what it would mean to them if he didn’t come home one day, and he’ll give up guns and police work and all that foolishness."
Argentina took him a bit aside from his goal for a while, but when he was blessed to a girl who thought the army was a great idea that would give them independence, he was back on the trail of Army and police work. Regrettably, the Blessing did not work, and as he saw his ideal of marriage and family with this girl slipping away, he thought more and more about going into the army as some form of therapy.
By now, the grandparents got into the picture. They could not believe that after living their lives as college professors, travelers, connoisseurs of music and fine foods and collectors of art, their only grandson and heir-apparent to the Lowen throne could presume to become -- a soldier!
His grandmother continually told him that in her hometown there had been signs that said, ‘No dogs or soldiers allowed’. He went through this kind of harangue almost daily, usually at mealtimes. And he listened. But when he was in town one day, he wandered over to the recruiting office and got a sponsor.
It was back and forth between his recruiter and his dad, but somehow he managed to hold onto his idea. He was going to be a soldier. Finally we relented. We preferred to have him go into the army with our blessing than as a pariah, despised by his family. One sunny day in July his dad went with him to the Binghamton, NY office, and Aliso signed into the U.S. Army as a volunteer.
I still had hopes that he might not go. Maybe he would fail the physical examination. He had suffered from asthma for several years, and I thought he just might not pass the stress test. But when he went to Chung Pyung in 1998, he had had a healing experience during An Su.
During one of the sessions he suddenly discovered he could take a deep breath, and had dashed out in the cold to run up to the Tree of Blessing to thank God for his healing. Of the seven people examined that day, only one passed the rigorous testing -- our son. He had never taken drugs. His lungs were completely clear. Aliso was a perfect specimen of a human being; sound as the day he was born.
I remained in deep denial that my baby was going to enter the war machine. He bought Army boots and packed his bags, and I pretended he was on his way to college, or a workshop, or someplace else I could countenance his going without traumatic feelings arising for me.
Finally the Lowen doomsday countdown clock reached midnight. Aliso went for his last three-mile run. I made a gigantic breakfast for him. He went to see his grandparents for a final ‘goodbye’ and we drove out to his dad’s work for a final hug and prayer as a family.
Back at home, he gathered his bags and we sat on the stairs with his Teddy bear Bill, waiting for the Army van to come that would bear him away from childhood forever. He strode down the walk to the door, tossed his duffle bag in with the others, then abruptly turned and came back up the walk.
"Goodbye, Mommy," he whispered in my ear, hugging Bill and me. And I whispered in his ear, "Carrying your shield or on it." He was a student of history. He understood. Bill just absorbed it all, as he always had, since Aliso was a tiny boy.
All the pain, all the hope, all the expectations seeped deep into his little cloth heart. I clutched Bill, all that I had to clutch from my little boy, not knowing whether to cry or maintain a stiff upper lip. That decision was made for me, as I entered his room. Good grief, hadn’t I told that boy to clean his room before he left? Suitably annoyed with him, I tossed Bill onto his unmade bed and began cleaning.
Early Days in the Army
The letters started coming a few days later. He had arrived safely at Ft. Riley in Columbia, South Carolina. He was meeting a lot of cool guys. They didn’t have a Unification Church, so he was going to Protestant services.
He was doing a lot of physical training. He had been the highest-scoring guy in his platoon. They marched a lot. He missed my cooking. Not to put too fine a face on it, while we were worried sick that some unknown calamity was about to befall him, he was having a blast.
Eight weeks later, he completed Basic Training. We loaded our car up with friends and drove from Bridgeport to South Carolina. He was well hidden in all that sea of camouflage, but we found him at last, and spent three days with him.
He showed us every inch of the base; he was so proud of his newfound career. Our biggest shock came, however, when he took us to his barracks. His area was spotless: his bed was quarter-bouncing perfect with hospital corners. His shoes were shined and lined up under his bed. Even his underwear was folded. Dumbfounded, we enquired how the Army had been able to teach him in two short months what we had been trying unsuccessfully to get through to him for eighteen long years. He gave us a typical Aliso answer: "Guns, Mom, my sergeant has a gun. You didn’t have a gun, so I didn’t have to listen to you. But when he says ‘clean your room’, I clean my room!"
We moved from Bridgeport to Albany in early 2000. He tooled around the country, to various bases. We never really knew where he was. "Somewhere in Kansas", "Somewhere in Colorado", "Somewhere in California" was the usual response he gave us.
He came home for two weeks in 2000, and he came home again in summer of 2001 for eight days, at the end of which he announced that he had ‘re-upped’ and that he was going to Korea. As Unificationists we thought this would be a good place for him to be.
He was doing computers, which sounded pretty safe to us, and insisted he would have absolutely no infantry experience. We imagined that he would spend most of his time at his base in Seoul, far from any potential for combat. He talked glowingly about the shopping and his buddies and the movies they saw, and about being a little bored.
All that changed on a warm September night.
On the east coast of the U.S., we had just arrived at work. Somebody had bought in sticky buns and Dunkin Donuts coffee, and we were having a little early morning fiesta in the front office. In Korea, Aliso had just come off of a 8 hour shift on police patrol.
Nobody knew at first who had directed terrorists to hijack those two planes and pilot them into the World Trade Towers. As a third plane swerved into the Pentagon and a fourth plowed into the ground in Pennsylvania, it became clear that someone was very angry with this nation and willing to risk war to prove it. But which nation was it? It could have been China. It could have been India. It could have been Iran.
It could have been North Korea.
Aliso was still on duty when his door flew open and a sergeant ordered them to ready their trucks and prepare to move. He was thinking it was still some horrific joke of a drill as he found himself shoved into a truck with the rest of his sleep-addled company. What was going on? They trundled out of their compound and out of Camp Red Cloud.
They were headed north.
After Korea, he came home. His family was in a shambles, it seemed. I had developed breast cancer, and was just finishing up radiation treatment. His father’s appendix had ruptured and encapsulated, and he had just had it removed. His grandfather’s emphysema had just taken a turn for the worse. His spouse was on the Blessing website. She had broken their Blessing and been matched to someone else.
Still he maintained his sunny spirit. He looked forward to going back to Korea, though there were rumors that his company might be going to the Middle East. He didn’t think so, but then he couldn’t be sure. He had to wait until he got his uniforms. If they were green, he was going back to Korea, but if they were sand-colored --
He called us as soon as he left the armory.
"They’re brown" was all he said.
He was about to see real war, close up.
We hoped against hope that Saddam Hussein would leave Iraq, as President George W. Bush requested of him. But then, really, what would President Bush have done if someone insisted that he leave the White House, leave America, and go into exile? While we hoped that our son would remain in Kuwait, where he seemed to be having a marvelous time, we knew ours was fools’ hope.
America had helped the Kuwaitis to get their country back. Aliso told us about a man he met there as he and a buddy headed into a clothing store to buy more appropriate shirts for the intense Kuwaiti heat. "Are you American soldiers?" the man asked, and when they replied in the affirmative, he offered to buy them whatever they wanted, and finally purchased a complete outfit for each of them. He took photos with them and his pre-teen son, and then asked them if they had seen Kuwait. When they said they had not, he offered them his car -- a Porsche. They were afraid to take it.
"But what if we have an accident?" Aliso asked. The Kuwaiti just shrugged.
"I’ll buy another one," he said, proffering the keys. The young soldiers climbed in and sped all over Kuwait City. They returned the Porsche to him in one piece.
Across the Border
A few days later, they got their marching orders. They were to cross into Iraq. There, no one would offer them an expensive car to drive.
Back home, we realized he was about to go to war. I was in terror. I prayed fiercely for him -- and got an answer: "So many angels are there already, waiting for him to arrive. They will protect him."
Aliso and the other 160 men who made up the 170th MP Company crossed into Iraq on April 4, 2003. It was his twenty-second birthday. "Happy Birthday to me!" he thought as they rolled into Iraq.
They traveled to many places fighting and sleeping along side the birthplace of Abraham and Babylon. One day Alisos first sergeant came up to his tent and told his soldiers load up we are going to Baghdad. After a long drive up to Baghdad the small detachment took place in a raid on a palace with other forces.
Once the enemy was all cleared out the soldiers took stock. To their horror, they discovered several Iraqis, men, women, and even children, chained to stakes or tied to various structures in the yard. Some were dead, but most of them were still alive.
The captives began weeping and crying as the soldiers approached, but as they realized these were American soldiers, they cheered. A few could communicate, and they told their stories. They were ordinary citizens, living quietly in their homes, until the Fedayeen without warning burst in upon them and dragged them into their trucks.
The women and young girls they raped. When they tired of them, they sent them to this stronghold. Here they were bound and used as target practice. The Fedayeen would shoot at them, then study their wounds and shoot again until they were dead. None of them had expected to leave the yard alive.
"If I did nothing else in Iraq," Aliso said later, "I and my guys saved the lives of those people. Maybe that’s what we were sent there to do."
Subsequent days brought subsequent adventures. He was there when the soldiers pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein. He somehow wound up with Uday’s cat months after the notorious son of Saddam was finally killed along with his brother and cousin in a shootout with soldiers. He called us, excited, with just three words: "We got him!" when the notorious Saddam Hussein was finally captured. He hoped for a time that it would be the end of the war, but was proven wrong.
Calls home were always interesting. One afternoon they found torture rooms and thrones and other things as they wandered through, making certain that no one was hiding out. On one sweep, he saw a solid gold telephone. Satisfied that no one was left in the palace, he eventually came back to the room with the solid gold telephone, and curious, picked it up and put it to his ear. To his surprise, there was a dial tone, so he dialed our number and was startled when I answered. "Mom?" he said, shocked. We had a nice conversation on Saddam. I hope we never get the bill -- and that the FBI never turns up at my house, wondering why Saddam has my number in his ‘Fave Five’.
One time he called on a cell phone, from a roof where he had been able to get a signal. As we spoke, I heard a noise behind him. "Drat!" he said. "Call you back, Mom. Those guys don’t know how to land helicopters! Gotta move!"
Only when he returned home did he reveal that the noise I had heard on the phone was not a landing helicopter, but a 155mm Russian Katyusha rocket, aimed at the buildings he lived in. Once he called from a marketplace, and I heard what sounded like chickens clucking behind him. "Those are kids," he said. "I'm bald and brown so they think I look like the actor Vin Diesel, and they follow me around asking for autographs."
He said he was always protesting that he was not Vin Diesel. I suggested, instead, that he smile and scribble autographs, which would satisfy them -- which would probably make their day, unless the real Vin Diesel ever showed up.
And there was the unforgettable day that an Iraqi stopped him in the street and asked him when the last time was that he had spoken to his mother, then whipped out a cell phone and told him to call home. Somewhere in Iraq I have another ‘son’, who I promised a grand tour if he ever came to the U.S.
His grandfather, who had been in the U.S. Army during World War II, sent him a remote control car. Aliso said that when he opened the package, he thought his grandfather had totally lost it. Later that evening, though, he got bored in the barracks on base, and he took the car out and began playing with it.
He was soon lost in the car and all that it represented -- childhood, carefree days, home, peaceful places where war never intruded. Finally the next shift came on, and he went off to bed down the hall, leaving the car in the office. He fell asleep to the sound of the ‘Rrrr -- Rrrr!" of the car and the sound of excited voices yelling, "Make it pop a Wheelie!"
Several people asked what they should send him and other troops for Christmas, and my response was always, "Toys. Books. Magazines. Socks. Games. Cards. Coloring books. Anything to take their minds off what’s going on around them when they are on duty."
The office at which I was working packed up a small plastic Christmas tree with the trimmings, one woman stayed up with her daughter all night and baked cookies, and we tossed everything but tickets home into several boxes and shipped them out. We received a card from several of the guys which was really cool for the staff at the office, and made us feel that we had raised our son right as well ("Always thank people when they give you something nice.").
Aliso also guarded several important people, including Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, Colin Powell, and even served on perimeter control for President George W. Bush when he paid an unexpected trip to the troops. He had a variety of jobs there, from clearing the roads to -- things he still can not talk about.
Anyway, for him the war was not always stressful. He recalled lying on top of a truck with his soldier one night. As the two looked up at the starry Iraqi sky, he remarked to his friend, "You know, our parents are probably really worried about us, little do they know we're laying here watching the Bourne Identity and eating candy."
And we were. Despite the reassuring message from the Spirit World, I could not help worrying; it was my job and sworn duty as a mother. I was always terrified that I would come home one day and find a white van and a black car outside my house, or that two soldiers would walk up my stairs bearing bad news. Finally I could not watch movies about war, or turn on the news, or even read a headline. As the word from abroad grew daily more horrific and casualties mounted, my anxiety grew.
On April 5th, just one day after his twenty-third birthday, we heard that returning troops were being turned back from Germany and sent back to Iraq for another tour. As Aliso had entered through Germany, we were certain that he was among those sent back to serve an extended term.
But Aliso had gone a different way. His company had been anticipating a trip to Rammstein Base in Germany, where they were always well fed, entertained, and otherwise cared for. They usually flew out on a comfortable airline, complete with onboard movies and general amenities.
Instead, his company had been sent to Balad to leave Iraq, much to their dismay. A transport plane, with seats that were little more than pipes held together with mesh netting, transported them to Spain. There they sat in an uncomfortable hall while the plane received service.
Looking out the window, Aliso observed the plane crew heading for the cockpit with sandwiches and water. He asked if there was going to be any food on the plane. "Food! Ha-ha!" the pilot replied. Aliso led his men to the cafeteria where they scooped up as many sandwiches and bottles of water as they could and then scrambled onto the plane for a grueling sixteen-hour ride across the Atlantic and the United States to their home base in Seattle. It was only when they arrived that they learned their ‘luckier’ companions who had gotten the plush seats to Germany were now on their way back to Iraq.
We were so happy to see Aliso that we bought an iPod for him, something that had not come out yet when he left for Iraq. His grandfather was so happy to see him that he provided him with most of the money to buy a bright red Acura that wasn’t remote control.
Aliso was feted by the Rotarians and spoke to outgoing soldiers at a base in New York. He also spoke on Parent’s Day before True Parents about his experiences and his congratulations regarding the Middle East Peace Initiative. He then began making plans to leave the Army, as he was due to be discharged in October of 2004.
However, he noted that his name kept popping up on a list of people scheduled to return to Iraq. His sergeant claimed this was an administrative error, and that the list would change any day. When it didn’t, he went in to see the man, who told him that he would indeed be going back to Iraq -- unless he signed up for another three years, in which case he could be guaranteed not to go back. It sounded like a good deal, and he went for it -- only to discover that his name remained on the Iraq list.
"But you told me re-enlisting would ensure me that I would not have to go back!" he told the sergeant.
"Gee," the man said. "I guess you got screwed. Sorry. Suck it up, Soldier." And he was dismissed.
Aliso had developed heel spurs, and it looked for some time as if he would be able to avoid a return to the battlefield. We had noticed that he limped when he walked, and he finally admitted that the spurs were painful.
When we had a doctor look at him, he confirmed the diagnosis. Carrying around a hundred pounds of equipment for any number of hours a day had taken a toll on his body. We filed a congressional complaint, and our representative, Michael McNulty, contacted the Army and asked what was up. Their personnel promised to look into it, and Aliso was scheduled for a surgery as his friends queued up for their sand-colored uniforms and packed their belongings.
Instead of a surgeon, though, someone appeared with a long syringe and shot cortisone into his heels. "That’ll hold you, Soldier," the person said. "Plane leaves in two days. Be on it!" McNulty’s office received a fax that Aliso was now in suitable health to return to full service, but that they would honor his request that he be transferred to Ft. Meade, MD for training in his field as a police officer. We received a call from Aliso two days later. "Guess where I’m calling from" was all he had to say. He was in Germany, preparing for his plane flight back to Baghdad.
If asked, Aliso would probably say that the second tour was far worse than the first. The enemy had grown far more sophisticated, and strikes against them were likely to be more deadly. He wasn’t able to contact us as often. The people were more wary about being around soldiers, and the children didn‘t chase after him calling out ‘Vin Diesel!’ anymore. They did not venture into the city unless on mission.
He spoke about only one incident that occurred there. He and two other soldiers, one a good friend, were set up on a rooftop when an insurgent with a rocket propelled grenade launcher opened fire. His friend was struck in the head and instantly killed. The other soldier stood up and began to scream.
It became Aliso’s responsibility to take over his dead companions rooftop fighting position as well as silence the other soldier, who could have drawn more fire upon them. Somehow he managed to get them off the roof. He still wears a bracelet bearing the names of his fallen friends, five from the second tour plus one the first time around.
Ultimately we received a call: he was back in Seattle. It was, however, some time before we saw him. There were incidents on base with soldiers who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and they were all confined to base for some time after coming home. Even when his grandfather passed away in May, he could not leave the base to attend the memorial services.
We finally got to see Aliso when he moved to Ft. Meade. He still was not free to travel about the countryside, but we did get in a couple of trips. We also got to see him briefly as he motored out to Seattle for his last base.
Aliso is scheduled for honorable discharge from the Army on July 18th. I’ve had his discharge orders hanging from my bulletin board for months. He already has a job lined up, and on July 4th he was Blessed in marriage to Andrea Trenbeath, a beautiful artist and jewelry maker from North Dakota. We have only the greatest love and pride for this incredible young man who has so ably represented his God, his country, his family, and himself.
Sandra Lowen, PhD, is Aliso’s mother. She resides in Albany, NY with her husband, John Lowen. Aliso currently lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife, Andrea.