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Those we lost

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Pope John Paul II was among those we lost in 2005

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I like to look back at the end of the year and remember those we've lost, people who, for different reasons, touched and maybe changed our lives.

We lost John Paul II, a towering figure, the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years, a theological conservative who also reached out to the Third World, and who inspired his fellow Poles with visits to Poland when it was still under Soviet occupation. A devout man, one who knew him wrote, "who thinks on his knees."

We lost Rosa Parks, polite, courteous, tough as nails, who wouldn't give up her Montgomery, Alabama, bus seat to a white person, got arrested and lit a flame -- a bus boycott led by a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr., which integrated the buses and launched the civil rights movement that integrated so much more.

We lost Terry Schiavo, who collapsed in 1990 and whose husband said she was brain dead and would want to die. But the governor of Florida tried to stop him from disconnecting her feeding tube. Congress passed, and the president signed, a bill letting her parents appeal their case to the federal courts. But the courts did not intervene and she did die. The autopsy showed her husband had been right.

We lost William Rehnquist, a conservative chief justice, and got caught up in wondering who'd succeed him. We lost Eugene McCarthy, a poet, senator, and, in 1968, an anti-Vietnam War presidential candidate whose success in the New Hampshire primary persuaded president Lyndon Johnson not to seek re-election. But McCarthy did not get the nomination, did not stop the war. Republican Richard Nixon was the new president, and the war went on. We lost Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress, and the first black person to run for president.

We lost Peter Jennings, longtime ABC News anchorman, and we lost Johnny Carson, who defined the way late-night shows on TV ought to look. We lost Jack Anderson, the most famous investigative reporter of his generation, and Hunter S. Thompson, the self-styled "gonzo" journalist whose book "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail" was, one critic said, the least factual and most accurate account of the 1972 presidential campaign. We lost Frank Perdue, who made chickens famous, or maybe it was the other way around. We lost George Mikan, professional basketball's first famous big man, a white 7-footer with glasses who played for the Minneapolis Lakers, and wasn't that a long time ago?

We lost Arthur Miller, the playwright whose salesman, Willie Loman, seemed to stand for much of 1950s America. We lost Shelby Foote, who wrote mostly about the Civil War. And Saul Bellow, whose "Adventures of Augie March" may have been the great American novel -- you could argue that, anyway. And Robert Moog, who invented the synthesizer, and we all know where that got us. We lost Anne Bancroft, who won a Tony and an Oscar for The Miracle Worker, but whom men of a certain age remember as the sexy predator Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate."

We lost Simon Wiesenthal, who hunted Nazis and helped catch nearly a thousand of them, including Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's man in charge of killing Jews, who was of course tried and executed in, of all places, Israel. We lost Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, a Mafioso who stayed out of jail for a long time by wandering New York in a bathrobe and slippers, claiming mental illness. They got him in the end, though; he died in prison.

And we lost Richard Pryor, a gifted comedian who talked dirty and led a troubled life, but who was, as Jerry Seinfeld said in Newsweek, "The Picasso of our profession."

We remember, at year's end, the famous who've died. But we ought to remember, this year, some others. The 839 American servicemen and women, as of December 27, mostly young and not famous, mourned by friends and family, who died this year in Iraq. Their lives lay ahead of them. They had things they wanted to do.

And in that sense they are like another group we should remember: the 1,322 Americans -- that's the confirmed count, the real toll is probably higher -- who died in Hurricane Katrina. They had hopes, and plans, and families, and death came out of the sky and took them all.

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