© St. Petersburg Times
published March 30, 2003
The young men had much in common: All four were between 19 and 20, three of the four had varying degrees of military training, each had a connection to Citrus County or the surrounding region, and all were in the headlines last week.
That's where the similarities end, and the real-world injustices begin.
Last week, the four arrived at crossroads in their young lives. Three of them had stumbled on their way there, endangering themselves and others through reckless acts of stupidity. But fate was kind, and they will get a chance to live on and to redeem themselves.
The fourth young man was different. He chose a path of honor, to follow in the heroic footsteps of his father and his grandfather. He sought to give something back to society and to his country, to make his family and friends proud.
For this unselfishness, fate decreed that he pay the ultimate price.
On Wednesday, the headlines told the heart-breaking tale of Lance Cpl. Brian Buesing, the 20-year-old from Cedar Key, who met up three days earlier with cowardly and deceitful Iraqi soldiers who pretended to surrender only to pull guns and open fire. Nine Marines were killed. One of them was Lance Cpl. Buesing.
That same day, half a world away from the battlefield, Joshua Dahling, 19, Jeremy Dahling, 20, and Aaron Dunlap, 20 stood before a judge in Inverness to learn the penalties for their actions.
In the space of five months, the three buddies had managed to commit 107 criminal offenses, including arson, burglary, theft and criminal mischief. Their big claim to fame, however, was the moronic stunt of planting a homemade bomb equal to two sticks of dynamite inside a metal garbage container at the county government complex in Lecanto. They were lucky the resulting explosion didn't blow their fool heads off.
Their run of good luck continued at their sentencing on Wednesday. They faced Circuit Judge Ric Howard, who earned headlines himself last year when he sent a teenager to prison for 10 years for stealing a six-pack of beer from a neighbor's garage. What were these three likely to get for their dangerous behavior, the guillotine?
The three faced the possibility of life in prison, and the state was angling for 10-year terms. But the judge went easy on them. Each got two years in prison, followed by probation with an order to apologize to the victims and to pay restitution.
Howard said he took their histories into consideration. They had never been in trouble before and, besides, the Dahling brothers had participated in the JROTC program at Lecanto High School.
"Potential pillars of the community," their attorney, Bruce Carney, called them.
They'll get a chance to live up to that prediction. Maybe, some day, they'll become half the man that Brian Buesing already was.
While they were clowning around and wasting time, Buesing was pushing himself to the limit in training to become a Marine. Just as his father and grandfather had done.
While the three vandals were destroying other people's property, Buesing was preparing to defend his homeland.
While they stood before a judge and got a second chance to make something of their lives, Buesing was in a faraway war zone, having given his life for his country.
The Dahling brothers and their pal Dunlap now will have a couple of years behind bars to reflect on what they've done. Let's hope that, from time to time, they think of the young men and women their own age who are putting their lives on the line in Iraq to safeguard their freedoms.
Let's hope that they think of the emerging heroes of their generation and give thanks for their dedication.