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In the wee hours of May 21, an Army Humvee on night patrol in Iraq hit a bump and flipped. An American soldier was crushed to death, and the driver - a 25-year-old sergeant from Dundalk with an infectious smile - faces the possibility of life in prison.
Sgt. Oscar L. Nelson III's fate will be decided this week at a general court-martial in Tikrit, Iraq, where Nelson is charged with unpremeditated murder and other serious charges in the death of Spc. Nathaniel A. Caldwell Jr., an aspiring minister.
Whatever the outcome of the Army trial - and one expert questions the key charge - the case has devastated two families. In the military, dying in the fight is considered a noble sacrifice. There is nothing noble about a senseless death. And being accused of causing one is akin to being labeled a coward.
At best, Caldwell, 27, died in an accident; at worst, it will be deemed murder. If nothing else, Nelson must grapple with the fact that he was behind the wheel when a man died. If convicted, he could be locked up at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for the rest of his life.
At a time when soldiers are dying in Iraq nearly every day, Caldwell's death is one more variant on a recurring tragedy.