In the early 1950s, a little American girl named Marilyn McBee lived with her parents in Kandahar. In the heat of the summer of 1954, she contracted polio. On June 17, 1954 a few days after her 10th birthday she passed away.
By JONATHAN ADDLETON
Special to The Star
Nearly 60 years later, Marilyn McBees grave site still rests in a part of Kandahar called Menzel Bagh, a testament of the long-term relationship between Afghanistan and the United States that still endures.
Of course, much larger monuments constructed during that period remain much more visible. Some of the most notable examples include Kajaki Dam, Dahla Dam, Kandahar International Airport and the main road north from Kandahar to Kabul.
Yet the stories of individuals and families also tell a history of their own. Such stories underscore the human aspect of U.S.-Afghan friendship, one that involves not only a partnership between governments but also a friendship between peoples.
What brought the McBee family to Kandahar? Her father was a soil scientist who worked for an American company contracted to undertake projects in southern Afghanistan. Based on his soil tests, decisions were made on where to dig many of the canals and irrigation ditches that are now the lifeblood for Kandahars vibrant agricultural sector.
The McBees finished their assignment in Kandahar and returned to the United States in June 1955. Neither parent was ever able to return to Afghanistan.
Charles McBee spent the rest of his life in Kansas, working as a soil scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He died in 1983 at the age of 59 and is buried in Salina, Kan. His wife, Ruby, now nearly 90 years old, still remembers their life in Kandahar.
Recently, I received a completely unexpected note reflecting the poignancy of that early encounter between Americans and Afghans in Kandahar that involved the McBee family. The note included two photographs one showing a small garden in Menzel Bagh where Marilyn McBee is buried, the other depicting the memorial stone placed above her grave.
The note included a request from Mrs. McBee: As representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Kandahar, could we somehow locate the place where Marilyn McBee is buried and see if the marker set above her grave is still in place?
An Afghan colleague was able to visit the tiny cemetery in Menzel Bagh. It still exists, protected by a wall and a gate, though by now the grave sites are covered in undergrowth.
The story of an American family who lived in Kandahar, contributed to the development of southern Afghanistan and ultimately left their daughter behind is both real and moving. It provides a timely reminder that events from the past often continue to have impact.
Marilyn McBee died of polio, recalling a time when polio killed or crippled thousands of children around the world. The year after Marilyn McBee died, doctors introduced a vaccine that over the course of many years is now on the verge of eliminating polio completely.
There is the legacy of the work that Charles McBee pursued in Kandahar. Decades later, the canals and irrigation channels that he helped identify continue to make important contributions.
Finally, there are the friendships that emerge and the memories that are forged when Americans and Afghans meet, work together and learn from each other. Sometimes this work involves enormous personal sacrifice. Yet, as the story of the McBee family in Kandahar underscores, such encounters last even beyond the bounds of a single lifetime.
Ambassador Jonathan Addleton is the U.S. Senior Civilian Representative in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Jonathan Addleton is the senior U.S. civilian representative in Kandahar, Afghanistan.