The death of Soldier one year later…


Iraq War Memorial

Image by Lorianne DiSabato via Flickr

What’s it like a year later when you lose a loved one in war. Well, I can’t answer that as a parent because I have never lost a child, especially my only child. But I can speak about the loss of someone I loved like a brother, PO 2nd Class Michael J. Gray. He was my nephew. He was killed last March 5, 2004, in Kuwait. He was my sister’s only child.

Mike‘s tour there was supposed to be relatively safe. He was only going to be gone for a few months. His reserve unit was doing logistics work in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He and three of his fellow Navy men were on their way to work when two men in a Mercedes sedan rammed his vehicle from behind at 100 mph. Michael was killed. The other three men were injured and after a while released from the hospital. One of the two men in the car that hit them died. The other is still in jail in Kuwait.

The investigation into the “incident” is over. Mike’s death was ruled an accident. I have spent the last year reading news reports in any newspaper I can find in the region written in English. I have been trying to make sense of how he died.

What I have have found out is Kuwaiti drivers are reckless. But I have also discovered that even before the beginning of the War in Iraq and the War against the terrorists, there have been and still are many troop deaths in Kuwait by Kuwaiti and outside infiltrators supporting al Qaeda and other militant Islāmic groups.

Mike and those other three men were military men stationed in a Combat zone. They were killed while performing their duty to their country. They were on their way to work when they were hit from behind. But what isn’t highly publicised is the vehicle that hit them had its lights off. I don’t know about anyone else, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that even a drunk turns on their lights in the dark, especially at 100 mph.

So how do I feel a year down the road? enraged! Mike’s death in itself has devastated me and my whole family. But as a veteran myself I am even more upset that our government is not honoring Mike and those other three men as they should for their sacrifices. The three men who survived have also lost benefits through the Veterans Administration available under a new law for Purple Heart recipients.

As I read the daily casualty reports of the deaths of our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and elsewhere, I am saddened by the loss of our men and women in the fight against the insurgents and terrorists. Then I look through the lists at the names of those men and women killed in “non combat” incidents.

The number is rising throughout the region. Many are listed on the Centcom report as pending further investigation. But the Defense Department reports don’t always match the Centcom reports. Nor do the two match those reports of the American media and the BBC journalists and the Arabic media who have journalists in the combat zones.

Several military veterans who have returned from the war have emailed me to thank me for my petition efforts. They have buddies who were killed that should have been awarded the Purple Heart but were not awarded the medal. One of the men was a corps man. He treated three Marines who were later told their injuries were not severe enough to be awarded the Purple Heart. He and his fellow troops were terribly upset by that decision. I find it an unacceptable response too.

I have also been thanked by a family member of one man who also was killed. His family still, one year later, doesn’t know the details of his death. He did not receive the Purple Heart. She thanked me for my petition. She encouraged me to continue my efforts.

So far I have only gotten 45 signatures on my petition. But I am resolved to see this through to the end no matter how long it takes. I support this war. I believe in this war. I support our troops by sending them messages of support and by participating on support forums.

My grief at Mike’s loss gives me the resolve to continue to fight to see all our troops receive the honor from their country they deserve. Not only will no troop be left behind again but no troop will go unrecognized for their sacrifice, especially those men and women injured or killed protecting their country. The dead can’t speak for themselves.

It is the responsibility of every American to see that they are honored as they deserve. We must never forget the sacrifices made by our men and women in the military. Whether they have been injured, have PTSD, family financial crisis, whatever, we owe it to these men and women to give the care they need. Those killed must never be forgotten. Their families deserve whatever acknowledgement is appropriate for the death of their loved one.

So as tomorrow approaches, and my grief begins to overwhelm me yet again, I think about that small redheaded, freckled face boy I knew and loved. I remember the tiny baby that would lay so peacefully and even fall asleep on the chest of my brother who was dying from cancer. It was like he sensed that he needed to be still but that he also felt peaceful laying there.

I remember the smiling little boy who I took back to DC with me for the weekend after one of my family visits. How he looked me straight in the face after asking me if we could get a hamburger at MacDonald’s and told me him and “dad” always did that together. [Dad was my dad. Mike never knew his dad so until my dad died when Mike was 11 they were inseparable and Mike called him Dad.]

I remember every Christmas and the gifts he gave me. Gifts that were always small and very personal, chosen with such care and love all by himself. I remember my father and that same young boy walking side by side to the car to go on another one of their “men” trips to MacDonald’s or the mall or the junk store. The destination was never important. It was the shared love and companionship that meant everything.

I remember the little boy, the young man and the grown man who called my mom “Gram’ and always made sure he spent time with her and shared his day with her. I remember the son who loved his mother more than anything and how he was never afraid to show her his love and respect.

I remember the boy, the young man, the grown man, who would always join in when my brothers and sisters and I started arguing about what branch of the military was the best. The young man who became a police officer because he was continuing a “family tradition.” My brother was a Deputy Sheriff..

I remember the young father who always called his four daughters “my girls”. How he changed their diapers, was there for their births, read them stories, took them everywhere he went, even if his wife wasn’t able to go with him. What it was like to watch him play with them or hold them in love or comfort at my mom’s. How he made sure he took them often to see his mom and gram. He made sure they had their shred moments with both too.

I remember how he never had an unkind word about anyone. I remember the look on his face in my mother’s kitchen as he tried to reassure her that everything would be ok when he went to Kuwait. He would be back.

I remember the morning I heard a knock at the door and it was my brother. He told me and my kids Mike was dead. Then there were the days waiting for Mike’s body to be returned home to his wife and mother.

I remember how with all my grief I grieved more for his wife and kids and my sister. How helpless I felt that I could think of nothing to say or do to make it all better for them. The sadness I felt as I watched his girls try to understand daddy wasn’t coming home again.

I remember the day the white hearse arrived in Richmond and following it from one side of town to the funeral home on the other side of town so at least on this part of his journey he would not travel it alone without someone he loved to watch over him.

I remember the days at the funeral home and the day of his funeral. I remember the flag drapped coffin, taps in the background, the twenty-one gun salute, and the many fellow Police Officers and Military men and women who watched over him and paid him tribute as he was laid to rest.

I remember the nights I went to the cemetery to talk to him and check on him. How the solar lanterns at his grave and the graves of others enveloped his grave in a blanket of soft light as if providing comfort and peace.

As I remember all these things I also remember the one time in our relationship that I hurt him terribly. It wasn’t something that I meant to do. It was also not something I even had a choice about. But I remember the pain I felt that day as if it were all happening today. Most of all I remember the loss I felt on that day and the terrible pain I saw on his face.

I also remember the guilt I felt for hurting him and knowing there was nothing I could do to take away the pain I caused him. For over fifteen years I have carried that guilt. Along with that guilt was the guilt that my fear of his not accepting my apology kept me from telling him how sorry I have been for ever causing him any pain. It’s too late now to tell Mike I’m sorry. I have to live with that.

But, as the time since his death passes and the grief over his loss remains, I find myself reflecting often about wasted moments. Opportunities where we all have a chance to tell those we love how we feel about them.

How so much of our life is shielded by our fears. How we don’t take time to discuss our grievances with one another. How we don’t take time in our busy lives to pay a visit to our loved ones as often as we could because they aren’t going anywhere.

We know they love us. We know we love them. How we hide behind the old saying, “some things don’t need to be said. They are just under stood.”

I reflect on how we don’t take time to sit down and look at pictures of our lives together. Talk about those things that happened in our lives that were so meaningful, so much a part of our lives.

Alone, just isolated random memories, together a picture of our life together and apart as we continue life’s journey. I reflect on how once they are gone we are left not only with our memories both good and bad; but, we are also left with many what only or what ifs!

Then I think about how sad it makes me feel that we don’t take the time to address these aspects of our relationships with our loved ones, too. How we take so very much for granted. And, I feel we have cheated ourselves. Because once death comes and takes away one of our loved ones, we are left with regrets and missed opportunities.

So I would remind us all. Take that time! Tell your loved ones how you feel. Don’t let past grievances go without apologies. Don’t take each other for granted. The memories you make with each other now while you are both alive or the ones you don’t make will be with you the rest of your life.

The finality of death takes away those second chances we always assumed would be there.

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~ by devildog6771 on March 4, 2005.

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