American Dispatch: A Journalist’s Journey

By: FOX News Radio’s Courtney Kealy

What is it like to report from a war zone? I don’t know the answer to the question that people have so frequently asked me. I don’t know, or maybe choose to not remember the scariest moments of my professional life working in conflict zones and wars.

But I do know the most shocking moment of my life. The gut wrenching, bone crunching feelings linger. Last September, I arrived back to my Jerusalem apartment after a few weeks summer’s vacation home in New York City with my family. I noticed a missed call on my phone from my mother and hoped she was calling to see if I arrived back safely. She wasn’t. I called back to hear her answer with overwrought choking sobs telling me she was so, so sorry, but my brother Sean had died. He had a heart attack three days after a doctor’s checkup that found him in the peak of health, two weeks after his 45th birthday, leaving behind two young sons and a terminally ill wife.

I left my apartment and my job as a reporter covering the Middle East; something I had considered a calling, less than four hours later to board a plane home, for good. When I arrived, my eight year-old nephew Declan, one of Sean’s two sons, looked at me with the cold searing honesty only a child can deliver straight to your core, asking unsmilingly, quietly, “How long are you staying?” “I’m staying,” I replied, “I’m not living far away anymore. If I go on a trip, I’m coming back.” So, I now sit on the sidelines because my job right now is to be here, with my family. But, twice in the last week I have come into work at 6am to the news of colleagues’ deaths, and the sadness of more loss has left me almost numb.

Anthony Shadid, Marie Colvin, and Remi Ochlik died recently covering the situation in Syria. Shadid died apparently from an asthma attack after a grueling trip, and Colvin and Ochlik were reportedly killed by a rocket launched during the Syrian army’s intense shelling of the city of Homs. This devastating loss of talent and integrity stings and cuts deeply. In one of her last dispatches, Colvin, a colleague, whom I had the honor of working with over the years, described “a city of cold starving civilians” being shelled by the Syrian army, as “sickening.” News of their deaths prompted Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President to declare “That’s enough. This regime has to go.”

I’ve been looking at photographs of funerals and dead Syrian rebels. I know how the bodies smell, how cold and damp the concrete feels. I have seen dead like this in Gaza, Bethlehem, Southern Lebanon and Iraq, among other places. But now I’m back sitting at a desk in New York. One photo has a close up of a body in a shroud with the man’s dead face uncovered as two little girls, (his daughters?) are leaning in wailing over the body. I have recently held a child like this, Declan at his father’s, my brother’s funeral. I know how a little body crumples and bends as a child weeps. It’s no different in New York or in Homs. It’s doing the right thing whatever that may be; which is certainly not telling stories filled with derring do and bravado moments of facing down bullets. It’s to be present.

It’s what Marie Colvin did before she was killed, bearing witness to the senseless death of a child in Homs, as his “little tummy” took its last breaths, a few hours before she did. Colvin’s mother said that her daughter’s legacy is to be passionate and be involved in what you believe in and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.

These are the qualities imbued in my brother Sean’s fiber and that I admire in the people I have had the honor to meet like Marie Colvin and others. To pay them tribute and honor, and to honor so many of the good people I have met along the way. It’s not to talk about bullets I have dodged, but about the brave souls I have met. They leave me striving to keep up with their standards of integrity held so much higher than most.

Listen to some of Courtney Kealy’s reporting HERE: