herwood Baker was a father, a husband, a brother, a son, and a moral, loving person. He was not supposed to be fighting a war in Baghdad. Back home, Sherwood’s family sat and watched months of explosions on television. A chill went through the house when reports of dead U.S. soldiers surfaced. They saw talking heads of gray-haired men saying ‘we are deeply sorry’, and an occasional image of a sobbing mother flashed by. The thought of ‘it can’t possibly happen to Sherwood’ persisted. Death was an abstraction.

Sherwood was providing security for a group looking for weapons of mass destruction that were never there. In civilian life the 6’ 4” gangly man from Philadelphia worked a full-time job at a center for mentally disabled adults, and on weekends played hip-hop in local bars as “DJ Phantom” to make ends meet. Sherwood needed to support his young son, J.D., and his wife Debbie, so he had joined the Pennsylvania National Guard at the age of 23; he had previously volunteered to help the Guard when he saw them placing sandbags to contain a surging river. On April 26th, 2004, an improvised explosive device killed Sgt. Sherwood Baker outside of Baghdad.

No photograph can show it, no words can describe it; embracing a weeping mother cannot make you feel it. It is infinite. So large that it sometimes makes me ill. Every person who loved Sherwood drags it with them wherever they go. To work, to a party, the grocery store, the park, and to their dreams as they sleep. If you watch very intently you can see it. I once stared into the eyes of Celeste, Sherwood’s mother, at the exact instant the thought of Sherwood’s death passed through her mind. Her gaze shifted and suddenly she was lost.

It remains an abstraction. An unnatural absence has become a part of life.

Sherwood is gone.

All photographs and text copyright © 2005 Theo Rigby