Last Journey book – A Father and Son in Wartime – excerpt 2

Posted: June 3, 2013 in Just War, Middle East, Mohamed
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Following is an excerpt from the book, “Last Journey.”  Darrell Griffin, Jr was killed by a sniper in Baghdad on March 21, 2007.  Darrell, Jr. and Darrell, Sr. had been working on a book that would reconcile the fact that Darrell, Jr. had to kill or be killed with the teachings of the great philosophers. When Darrell, Jr. was killed Darrell, Sr. embedded with Darrell, Jr.’s combat unit in Baghdad to complete their book.  War is dirty, blood and a failure of man to take God’s course and resolve our differences peacefully.

At four o’clock on March 21, 2007—I remember the exact time—Kim called me at work to tell me that Skip had been shot. He had been wounded a couple of times before while on tour in Iraq so I asked her how bad it was. All she could say was “he’s gone.”  I threw the phone against the wall and ran to my car. The only words I could get out of my mouth as I ran from the building were the words Kim had told me: “He’s gone.”

Kim asked me to get home as soon as I could. Diana, Skip’s wife, had called to tell her that Skip had been killed and “Casualty Assistance Officers” (CAO) were trying to reach us. The army assigns CAO to go to the houses of family members designated on a soldier’s deployment papers and notify them in the event that he is killed. These papers are completed by all military personnel before deployment to a combat zone

As I was racing home, I called Rene, Skip’s sister, from the car, and told her. Her husband had to take the phone from her as she began sobbing uncontrollably.

Then I called his brother, Christian, and his other sister, Sommer.

After I hung up the phone the car was silent except for the “white noise” of the traffic around me on the Ventura Freeway. I was almost grateful that the traffic was as congested as it normally was during the work week. It gave me time to collect myself and try to be strong for Kim and the kids when I got home. As I turned off the Ventura Freeway onto the Santa Monica 405 I saw a dilapidated old travel trailer being towed by a pickup truck. The trailer was about twenty feet long and ten feet wide. It was a chalky-white color and looked like it had several layers of tar on the roof, probably from patching leaks over the years. It reminded me of the trailer I lived in when I brought Skip home from the hospital after he was born. Rene had been born a year earlier. I was just finishing high school and entering college so the little trailer was the best I could do.

Kim’s car was already sitting in the driveway when I got home. I walked in the house and gathered Skip’s younger half sister, Alexis; his younger half brother, Jordan; and Kim into a circle so we could all cry together. Kim got us each a glass of wine and we sat and waited for the CAO officers to knock on the door. There are so few things that Hollywood portrays in war films that are accurate. But it’s dead-on when there’s a scene showing the unwanted knock at the door by two soldiers in dress greens.

It was 7:00 p.m., about three hours since Kim had called to tell me about Skip. The knock at the door startled us even though we were expecting it. I opened the door and one of the soldiers said, “The President of the United States regrets to inform you that your son, SSG Darrell Ray…” I interrupted him in mid-sentence: “Please come in.”  They could tell from the redness of our eyes that we already knew what had happened. Kim and I were so consumed with our own grief that it wasn’t until later that I thought about the awful time Diana must be having, being by herself when the CAO came to her door at Fort Lewis.

One of the CAO officers handed us a used white three-ring binder with pages in it. While I was grieving with one part of my brain, the other part of my brain was wondering how callous these guys were for giving us such beat-up copies of “What to Do When You Lose A Loved One In Combat.” It’s as if your brain is a separate entity from you. It is trying to help you survive the fact that you have just heard the worst possible news: your son has been killed in the sands of Iraq, halfway around the world. It must be part of a self-defense mechanism developed over eons of time. This would have been a good topic of discussion for Skip and me.

We sat and listened to what help the army could give us now that we had lost our oldest son in combat, but I wasn’t really listening. I was thinking to myself, Is there anything they can say that will make any difference now that my son is gone? After they delivered their canned speech we all sat in silence for a few minutes. The only sounds were occasional sniffling, the ticking of the clock on the living room wall and a police siren in the distance.

I asked one of the officers how it had happened. He said, “I was told very little other than he was shot in the back of the head by a sniper.”

“Did he suffer?” I asked?

“I don’t think so, given the nature of the wound,” said the other soldier. I could tell they didn’t really know. They were from the local National Guard armory. Neither one had served in a war zone. But I knew they were just trying to help us.

They got up to leave and shook our hands as they walked toward the door. They explained that an officer would be assigned to work with us to arrange for funeral and burial services. They gave us the name of Sergeant Holifield and said he would be contacting us today or tomorrow. I thanked them as I closed the door behind them.

War is blood, dirty and filled with death.

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