In the eyes of his anti-war mother, Brian Slavenas was a man of peace who died while reluctantly serving in a conflict he disagreed with.
To his father and brother, both veterans, the 30-year-old helicopter pilot was an officer who loved the military life and deserved full honors.
The body of the Illinois National Guard helicopter pilot--shot down Nov. 2 in an Iraqi attack that killed 16 U.S. soldiers--was returned Wednesday to his hometown, where a visitation was held in Faith United Methodist Church.
But in a rift that mirrored their divergent views of the war, his family has wrestled over how best to remember a son and brother who will be buried Thursday in a church cemetery, not a military one.
War's painful toll was made evident not only by the family's shared grief, but also by their disagreement over the meaning of his death.
Deeply angry at a war that claimed her son, Rosemarie Dietz Slavenas refused to use a casket provided by the military and asked that the coffin not be draped with a U.S. flag. But Brian Slavenas' father, Ronald, and his older brother, Eric, say the pilot loved the uniform and would have wanted honors such as a helicopter flyover and a uniformed bugler playing taps.
As executor of her son's will, Dietz Slavenas, who is divorced from Ronald Slavenas, has the final say over arrangements.
"What I am trying to do is celebrate Brian's life," said Dietz Slavenas, who lives in Rockford. "That's what he would want us to do."
His father and his older brother, however, perceived an anti-military agenda in the arrangements.
"She doesn't want taps . . . and she doesn't want a flag draped on the coffin," Eric Slavenas, Brian's half-brother, said last week, before final arrangements had been set. "And these are just things that are spikes in my dad's and my heart."
The thought that came to my mind was a paraphrase of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. This woman hates the war more than she loves her own son.