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Father’s Tribute, Fulfilling Son’s Wish



A Father and Son in Wartime

By Darrell Griffin Sr.

304 pages. Atlas & Company. $25

There aren’t many things Hollywood gets right in war movies, Darrell Griffin Sr. observes in his memoir, “Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime.” But, he adds ruefully, films are “dead-on when there’s a scene showing the unwanted knock at the door by two soldiers in dress greens.”

Mr. Griffin speaks from experience. His son, Staff Sgt. Darrell Griffin Jr., known as Skip, was killed by sniper fire in Iraq on March 21, 2007. He was 36. Two soldiers in dress greens knocked on the door, came inside to deliver their news and then walked back out.

It’s an all-too-common scene, but it arrives at the beginning of an uncommon book, one in which a mourning father has scooped up a dead son’s e-mail messages, blog posts and journal entries and combined them with his own observations. He’s made something that is, at worst, ungainly, but at best raw and true and unvarnished and strange, its own kind of outsider art.

“Last Journey” is billed as the work of two men, father and son. And certainly many of the words in this book are Darrell Griffin Jr.’s. But this is the father’s book, and gratefully so, because the elder Mr. Griffin’s voice — blue-collar, cant-free, come-as-you-are — may put you in mind of Ron Kovic’s in his memoir, “Born on the Fourth of July.”

To tell his son’s story, Mr. Griffin must tell his own, and it’s a peculiarly American tale of growing up on the dank, weedy side of the tracks. Mr. Griffin’s mother died young in a car crash, leaving him and his three young siblings with their distant, angry father. That father left to join the Hells Angels; the kids were dumped on their grandparents.

Mr. Griffin got his girlfriend pregnant when they were both 16 and in high school. It was 1969. “I remember sitting up late one night thinking that if Linda and I put our ages together — 32 — it would be a good age to have a child,” he writes. Poor and barely employed, they married and began living in a trailer park in Stockton, Calif. A second child, Darrell Jr., soon followed.

There were a lot of drugs and tattoos and, eventually, piercings in Mr. Griffin’s extended family. He was a stoner who grew his own pot. But he managed to get a college degree in accounting, and eventually a decent job.

“Maybe now I would no longer be considered ‘white trash,’ ” he writes. At the very least, he could be “white trash with a checking account, credit cards and a mortgage.”

His son, Darrell Jr., grew up to be a hell-raiser. He began running away from home before he was a teenager, and was using crack, steroids and pot. To buy drugs, he burglarized the house his father shared with his new wife. Mr. Griffin writes with real insight and feeling about what it was like to watch a son spin off the rails.

Darrell Jr. went to rehab, and soon met his wife to be, Diana. Along with their marriage, the things that truly saved him, and they are an unusual combination, were books and the Army. He began to read writers like Plato and Orwell, and developed an interest in philosophy. At a used-book store he bought a set of the multivolume “Great Books of the Western World” and began devouring it, page by page. These books, his father writes, “became his college education, his personal B.A.”

Before long Darrell Jr. was reading Descartes and Nietzsche, as well as Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, and conducting a running argument about these writers and others with his father, who worked to keep up with him.

The second half of “Last Journey” is a different kind of book. It’s an account of Darrell Jr.’s time in Iraq. He shipped out in October 2004 and fought in the northern town of Tal Afar, receiving a Bronze Star for dragging a soldier to safety while under enemy gunfire. Mr. Griffin adds his own reporting about various battles to his son’s accounts.

Darrell Jr. was a big guy and a tough soldier, one who had the words “Malleus Dei” (“God’s hammer”) stenciled on his equipment. A fellow soldier says of him: “He always produced body counts. He was a warrior.”

Darrell Jr. attracted other soldiers to him, hosting regular “pit gatherings” in which philosophy and religion were primary topics. His outsize personality also attracted reporters. His patrols were followed by writers from Time magazine, and U.S. News & World Report put him on its cover after his death.

Mr. Griffin convinces you that his son was an unusual man, someone worth knowing. Darrell Jr.’s own writing is not equal to his father’s, however, at least in the excerpts here. It lacks the older man’s homely simplicity and attention to detail, and is sometimes grandiose.

“If I return home safely, I will run for office in some capacity and will introduce a long forgotten type of leadership,” he wrote on his blog. He added, “I have much to say about the Manichean moral polarity of perpetual good vs. evil.” He was writing a book when he died; it almost certainly would not have been as good as this one.

It has already been pointed out, by Thomas E. Ricks of The Washington Post, that the most honest and gripping accounts of the Iraq war have come from low-ranking soldiers, not from generals. “Last Journey” joins that small shelf of serious books, thanks to a father with a native gift for the English language, one who gave his son the greatest gift a father can give: his avid and appreciative attention.


Publishers Weekly

Last Journey

The conflicted, ultimately tragic experience of an American soldier in Iraq is explored in this moving homage. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Skip Griffin saw heavy fighting during several tours in Iraq before he was killed by a sniper in Baghdad in 2007. His father’s memoir portrays Skip as a thoughtful man (he read Plato at age 13) imbued with a skeptical patriotism; despite his deep misgivings about the war, he volunteered to cut short a yearlong break to return to Iraq. Skip’s own perceptions emerge through extensive excerpts from his e-mails, blog and other writings. In these he criticized the Bush administration’s reasons for the war, deplored the failings of American counterinsurgency strategy and the woeful performance of the Iraqi armed forces, and evinced a growing weariness, edging toward despondency, at the carnage around him. Darrell Sr. overquotes his son’s grandiose and not always cogent ideas about religion, philosophy and politics. But when the book sticks to Skip’s everyday impressions of the conflict, it presents a harrowing, unsanitized vision of the war and the toll it takes on our soldiers. Photos. (June 29)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.



(CNN) –When the news came, Darrell Griffin hurled th he phone.

his story

Then he got in his car and navigated the madness of LLoos Angeles highways, thankful only for the time it gave him to think about what h he would say to his family.

Later, consumed with the grief of losing a son, Griffin d drew the drapes in his bedroom and made his world mimic the darkness in his he eart.

After he buried Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr. and after the sy ympathy calls faded, the elder Griffin, like every American who has ever lost a be eloved soldier, struggled to

resume life’s normal rhythms.

But this is where Griffin’s journey veered from others annd took a twist so unique that it made the U.S. Army bend its rock-hard rules. Th he 55-year-old accounting

consultant, who opposed Vietnam and had never serve ed in combat, traveled to the epicenter of the Iraq war. There, he would trace his s son’s last days.

The result, “Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime e,” is a common story about a father-son relationship, told in an uncommon way.. Listen to Darrell Griffin read

excerpts from his son’s journal »

The education of a warrior

Griffin’s eldest son joined the Army for all the reasons l listed on recruitment posters. He wanted to serve his nation and straighten himseelf out in the process.

He became a soldier’s soldier: never disobeyed an ordeer and went beyond the call of duty. He served two tours in Iraq and was awarde ed a Bronze Star with Valor

for dragging a fellow soldier to safety through a hail of eenemy gunfire.

The father who had avoided the draft during Vietnam b by joining the National Guard understood that the Army was his son’s way of help ping others.

He had been a rebellious child and often spent long ho ours in detention, where he read voraciously: Nietzsche, Descartes, Herodotus, P Plato. In Iraq, he would rely

on intellectual writings to ponder lofty concepts like wha at constitutes a just war.

Both Griffin men had misgivings about Iraq and whetheer it was the right place to battle radical Islam.

Skip began a conversation with his father.

What would it feel like to kill?

“The whole thing about philosophy is that it leads to more questions,” Griffin recalled. So it was OK for his son, the tough staff sergeant who had the words

“Malleus Dei” (“God’s hammer”) stenciled on his equipment, to question the war.

At his father’s urging, Skip began to record his experience. He started a blog.

He snapped a photo of the first man he shot: 12:33 p.m. April 21, 2006, according to the time stamp on his camera. The man wore a blue sweater and a white

jacket that turned crimson.

Skip spoke to his father, often in e-mails, about that kill, about every subsequent one and about all the ugliness he witnessed in a faraway land.

December 9, 2006: “This is no way for a human being to live; living with violence and intrigue on every street corner, where you can’t even trust your own

neighbors for fear that they might be someone on the opposing side. Once again I had to push this heartbreaking thought deep into my heart because I was a

Squad Leader leading nine heavily armed young men and trying to bring them home alive.”

Several weeks later, Skip’s unit was in the thick of battle in the Shiite heartlands of Najaf and Karbala. He wrote home about “apocalyptic” battles in which he saw

“hundreds of blown apart bodies.”

January 30, 2007: “Dad, I have seen what hell must be like when we assaulted this compound. … There were fathers bringing up their dead babies to me and

shoving them into my arms for help.”

When Skip came home on leave, father and son talked over a bottle of Merlot. Griffin noticed what so many other parents do about their war-weary children. Skip

was as loving as ever, but the killing had changed him.

“He seemed to have a need to constantly play certain scenes over again in our conversations,” Griffin would later write. “As we dissected these scenes into

smaller and smaller pieces, his feelings of guilt began to percolate to the surface. Still, he always ended every talk with: ‘Dad, I love you.’ ”

Skip wanted to pen a book of his musings on war. But his work was left unfinished when he was felled by a sniper’s bullet March 21, 2007.

Embedding with his son’s unit

After the funeral, Griffin knew that he had to finish the book as a final gift to his son. He also knew that it would have to be radically different than the philosophical

essays Skip had envisioned. It would have to focus on Skip’s death.

From the military, Griffin had received skimpy incident reports and the results of an autopsy. The only way he could fully tell his son’s story would be to travel to

Iraq and spend time with Skip’s unit.

“I had to do it,” Griffin said. “My life was incomplete. My son’s life was incomplete.”

Griffin wrote to everyone he could think of to enlist help, including Gen. David Petraeus, then the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Petraeus told Griffin that he

was asking for the near-impossible, especially since military operations in Iraq were in high gear.

Amazingly, a few weeks later, Griffin found himself on a C-130 transport plane from Kuwait to Baghdad. He would join Skip’s unit in the 2-3 Stryker Brigade, at a

base near the Baghdad airport.

“I was very impressed by Mr. Griffin’s determination and commitment to finish what his son had begun and to spend time with his son’s former unit to do it,”

Petraeus told CNN. “In my view, his situation was truly unique, and thus it was one in which we decided to make an exception to normal practice.”

Griffin landed in Baghdad with a fear that transcended roadside bombs and mortar rounds. How would his son’s unit treat him? What would he say? What would

he ask?

He took care to refer to his son as “Griff.” That’s how his Army buddies knew him. He slept on a cot in a metal containerized housing unit just as his son had. He

heard the gravel crunch under his boots as he walked through the base, following his son’s footsteps.

Despite the awkwardness, the soldiers opened up. Griffin could tell they were hurting, too. “It was bound up in them,” Griffin said. “They wanted to talk about it and

get it out.” Sometimes, they shut the video camera off and just cried together.

Griffin’s commitment to the book helped shield him from the painful details he was about to learn, the story of his son’s last day.

Skip was standing in the hatch of a Stryker armored vehicle, just 15 minutes outside the gates of the base. The familiar rat-a-tat of small arms fire filled the air.

Confusion reigned. Sgt. Christopher Pacheco noticed that Skip’s legs were limp.

The soldiers pulled his body back into the vehicle and desperately wrapped his head with gauze to stop the blood. Skip’s breathing was labored, erratic.

He was transported to a combat hospital but died before he could be airlifted to Balad Air Base, where a specialist in head trauma waited.

“Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime” has received warm reviews. In the seventh year of the war, myriad books on Iraq have sprouted on store shelves.

But this has been lauded for its unique voice.

These days, Griffin attends events celebrating his work and regularly visits Skip’s grave at Los Angeles National Cemetery, where a headstone reads:

“Darrell Ray Griffin Jr

S Sgt

U.S. Army. Iraqi Freedom

Mar 13 1971 -Mar 21 2007


Beloved husband son and brother”

The elder Griffin is glad he fulfilled his promise and was able to tell his son’s story beyond the facts spelled out on a cold grave. He looks to the heavens and knows his son is smiling down at him, saying “Dad, we did it.”


Barnes and Noble Review

Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime

Reviewed by Anthony Swofford

The best books succeed because they offer the reader a glimpse into a world that might otherwise be unknown, or unknown to most of us. The book at hand, Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime, is one of those books. The number of parents who have lost children in the current American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a small, albeit growing, number. The distinction is an awful one, the mark of experience that tears families apart, that leaves a wake of grief, anger, and remorse.

Last Journey is by Darrell Griffin Sr. and Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr., a self educated and widely read staff sergeant in the US Army. His areas of interest were philosophy and theology. From his high school years and to the moment of his death he devoured the giant works of the canon, books by Kierkegaard, Hume, and Nietzsche as well as more esoteric works such as Aristotle and the Arabs: The Aristotlean Tradition in Islam, by F.E. Peters.

The reader can’t help but think that if senior members of the Bush administration had been as hungry for knowledge about the Middle East as Staff Sergeant Griffin the war would have turned out differently or might never have been fought. Skip’s journal entries range from questions of being and justice to mind searing renderings of the suffering of Iraqi civilians and the deaths of fellow soldiers.

One of the aspects of memoir writing that is most satisfying for the writer is the temporary illusion that she has most of it figured out from the start: she had crazy alcoholic parents who abandoned her and then she made it to the Ivy league; he was raised by wolves and only suffered minor injuries; he backpacked across Nepal and met some cool people and experienced transformative moments while looking at the abyss and is now home to write about it.

The unsatisfying thing about writing memoir is that just because you know the story, the story isn’t necessarily known: the tale of one’s experience has a way of expanding once begun, creating traps that the memoirist might never have imagined — just as characters sometimes barge unwanted into novels, events sometimes barge unwanted into memoirs.

The elder Mr. Griffin and his son had been engaged in a decades-long debate that they called The Great Conversation. The senior Griffin guided his son’s reading when the boy was younger and then was led by the son as he grew older and hungrier for knowledge. The men decided that when Skip returned from Iraq after his second tour they would write a book together based on their intellectual engagement. One father wants to take his son to a bar; another wants to write a book with his son. This fact alone is rather remarkable.

And the resulting collaboration might have been a fine product by a father and son that loved and respected one another and their shared learning. But, in March of 2007, Skip was killed in Iraq by a sniper’s bullet as he rode air guard in the rear hatch of his Stryker combat vehicle. And his father went on to write what must be the first of its kind (I can think of no other model): a book started in fragments — journal entries, emails, and the occasional blog entry — by a son, and finished, after the son’s death at combat, by the father.

Griffin Sr. has crafted more than a simple testimony to a lost son. The early pages of the book that narrate the father’s hardscrabble upbringing in the poor Okie regions of the central California Delta evoke a world not so finely rendered since Leonard Gardner’s Fat City. The names of towns like Turlock and Stockton, to those who know them, conjure poverty and neglect. It’s a world so poor and bleak that Raymond Carver’s characters would split town upon peering in a few living room windows:

At times there were eleven people living in Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Every few years my father would come around and get me and my sisters excited with all of his empty promises, only to disappear again. He still owes me a bike.
This deadpanning along with clearheaded prose is what raises the book above a simple reminisce. The book is a testament to reading and education as social ladder. The poor people Skip comes from — his mother, pregnant with him in high school, disappeared by the time he is four — make up a large portion of the enlisted ranks of our military. But the senior Griffin worked his way up through college and a graduate degree and off of the welfare rolls, and he taught his son to love books.

Skip won a Bronze Star with a V for valor. He seems, by all testaments, to have been a stellar and selfless leader of men. He also managed to get himself in trouble occasionally: upon arrival for his second tour another soldier ratted him out, telling the command that he’d brought his own M-4 and Beretta pistol. “By bringing in his own weapons Skip violated some pretty serious Army regulations,” his father notes. For any other soldier this might have meant a demotion or even a dishonorable discharge, but the sheer number of Skip’s peers and commanders who were willing to come forward to testify to his combat worth and command abilities convinced his unit to go easy on him: they sent him to the Tactical Operations Center for six months before he could return to leading men in combat. “This punishment would prove to be a valuable learning experience for Skip.”

Skip sounds to me like one of those men that everyone in the battalion knew and trusted and wanted on their side, whether it be for a game of hoops or a combat mission. He’s the leader who was willing to trade pistols for whiskey with Iraqi army units and could also articulate the complexities of the Iraqi religious and political structures in long talks with subordinates and peers, as well as in the journal entries that make up much of his contribution to Last Journey.

The book that he helped his father write from the grave is a testimony to the brave brand of thinking, skeptical soldier who does his job no matter what. One of Skip’s lieutenants later told the elder Griffin that regardless of the mission Skip always said, “Screw it, we gotta do it, we gotta do it.” It might have been the elder Griffin’s mantra while writing this book for and about his son. And the literature of war is richer for it.

Anthony Swofford is the author of Jarhead, a memoir of his experiences serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq during the first Gulf War, and Exit A, a novel. He is contributor to numerous publications including The New York Times, Harper’s, Men’s Journal, and The Iowa Review.

His father went on to write what must be the first of its kind … a book started in fragments … by a son, and finished, after the son’s death at combat, by the father.



‘Last journey’: A father finishes what his

son started

By J. Ford Huffman

Darrell Griffin Sr. and his son, Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr., agreed to co-write a book

of philosophical conversations when Skip first deployed to Iraq in 2004. They

wrote until Skip was killed in Baghdad on his second tour in 2007.

Griffin Sr. has gone to great lengths to finish the task on his own. Using Skip’s email,

letters and journals, he tells his son’s unvarnished personal story. He reports

and interviews from the ground where Skip walked in Iraq — Griffin’s “last

journey” there — in order to reconstruct his son’s combat experiences.

The result is a no-frills picture of a soldier-son who went from being a National

Guard dropout with a history of running away to a respected Army staff sergeant

decorated for valor. Dad has done his son — and parenting — proud.

Skip was a “scholar and intellectual. Sometimes soldiers can lose sight of how

different our culture is compared to that of Iraq, but not when SSG Griffin was

nearby,” says platoon leader 1st Lt. Gregory Weber.

Capt. Christopher Bachl agrees: Skip was “well-read, better than most. … In the

regular infantry, this is not necessarily a plus. But [in Iraq] this is not only one of

the types of guys you want but you want him to lead because he understands what

is going on.”

Not that understanding comes easily. A month before he died, Skip was reading a

book about Islam for the fourth time. He tried to understand the reasons for the

war he was part of, and the people and cultures involved.

“I must state emphatically that I am not on one side, politically or intellectually,

when it comes to how I view this war in Iraq,” Skip wrote in an early journal entry.

“I merely seek the truth concerning motives, reasons and justifications utilized to

substantiate [the U.S.] initiation of hostilities.”

How did he seek the truth? His father had taken him and his sister to public

libraries as “cheap entertainment” when Skip was a kid. And while some people

claim familiarity with some of the so-called great books, Skip ended up reading all

of them after he had found a used, 54-volume set of the “Great Books of the

Western World” at a bookstore. By studying great minds he earned his own

“personal B.A.”

Reading about Skip, you can’t help but think about the wisdom he might have

presented to the halls of academia, Capitol Hill or the Pentagon once out of his

Army Combat Uniform.

But in Iraq the “optimist of the human spirit” saw himself as an infantry soldier


In an e-mail note six days before he died, the exhausted Skip informed his wife

that his tour had been extended three or four months. “You have to find what

strengthens you and sustains you in this world” [of combat], he wrote. “Deep

inside, this is so hard for me to be here but I motivate my boys so much that I tend

to forget how painful things are for me while being strong for others.”

Throughout the book, Griffin allows his son to be the hero and the intellectual. He

offers only the essentials about his own self-funded tour of Iraq after Skip was

killed. However, the understated elder Griffin describes two haunting moments.

In a latrine trailer in Camp Ali Al Salem, he spots a scrawled and incorrectly

phrased quote from Nietzsche on the wall of a stall. Below the misconstrued

quotation is a corrected version. The editor had signed his name as “Skip.”

Later, during a solo midnight walk at the forward operating base FOB, he

suddenly “heard another set of boots crunching on the gravel right beside me. The

sound startled me. I looked over and there was Skip. ‘Dad, I love you. Don’t worry.

I am in a good place. Please get back to your CHU [sleeping quarters].’

“I stopped to say something to him but he was gone.”

Before heading out on patrol, Skip always crossed his chest and asked — prayed —

aloud for “strength and honor.” In “Last Journey,” he achieves and personifies



J. Ford Huffman is a contributing writer for Military Times.

Last Journey, A Father and Son in Wartime by Darrell Griffin Sr. and Darrell

“Skip” Griffin Jr., Atlas & Co., $25, 309 pages.

Staff Sgt. Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr. was interviewed by Alex Kingsbury of U. S.

News & World Report, and after his death was the subject of a cover story in the

magazine. To read that story, go to


McClatchy Washington Bureau

Inspired by fallen son, father completes book on Iraq

Adam Ashton | McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD — Staff Sgt. Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr. wanted to give Americans a close-up view of his two tours of duty in Iraq, so they could see the blood and grit in the aftermath of an attack on a convoy, and feel his anxiety in watching the lives of ordinary Iraqis fall part in the crossfire between sectarian killers and the soldiers who hunted them.

His plans to write a book with his father, Darrell Griffin Sr., were cut short by a sniper’s bullet in Baghdad on March 21, 2007.

Griffin Sr. wouldn’t let go of their project, however. He gathered Skip’s e-mails, journals and photographs to piece together the book. When that wasn’t enough, he arranged to visit Skip’s company in Baghdad, an unprecedented “embed” for a 55-year-old father of a fallen soldier.

In interviews with soldiers, Griffin reconstructed his son’s death and learned about Skip’s role as his company’s resident philosopher, a self-educated soldier who hosted discussion “pits” to relieve stress and readily put himself in harm’s way.

The book, “Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime,” was published earlier this summer.

In it, Griffin Sr. traces his own roots as a 16-year-old dad in Stockton, Calif., and describes how Skip grew from a rebellious 12-year-old debating Plato in the rural California town of Turlock to a Los Angeles emergency medical technician who joined the Army out of a desire to live up to his own values.

Griffin is in the midst of a tour supporting the book, stopping Thursday in Stockton. He spoke with McClatchy this week about his journey assembling the book that, he says, “Skip was born to write.”

Q: Darrell’s e-mails to you were exceptionally detailed. What was it like, as a father, to receive such intense descriptions?

A: I fully expected his e-mails to be like that, because our conversations were always like that. He did tell me everything, but he would underplay it sometimes because he didn’t like to brag. When I went to Iraq and I talked to soldiers, I realized, My God, my son was a super soldier.

He asked me to pray for him every time I talked to him. It troubles you, but you get more troubled when they stopped coming.

Q: Some of Skip’s most moving e-mails in the book are ones in which he describes average Iraqis becoming the war’s unintended victims — losing their homes, jobs and families. How did you see that awareness develop?

A: That’s one reason he wanted to go back. He didn’t feel complete yet. He did feel the Iraqi people got caught in the middle and they often got forgotten. One term that drove him crazy was “collateral damage,” because it desensitizes people. Collateral damage is people.

Q: How did your thoughts about the war in Iraq change over time?

A: Skip and I were pretty much in agreement that it was inevitable because of how often radical Islam has attacked the U.S. But was that the right place and the right time to do it?

Once you get there, you just can’t walk away. But was this the right way to do it? Is it necessary that 4,000 soldiers died there?

Q: How did the soldiers in Skip’s company receive you?

A: There was some apprehension, because my son was the only soldier who was killed in the company at that time. There was some apprehension to talk to me among soldiers who were in the vehicle when my son was shot. I realized at the time it would be awkward. They understood. You could feel their hurt, too, by my son’s death

Q: What kind of reaction are you getting from other parents who’ve lost sons and daughters in Iraq?

A: There’s no such thing as closure, that’s the main thing I’ve been asked. There is no such thing. I could just imagine sitting here talking to Skip. I have his (philosophy) books looking at me. I can just imagine him.

The main thing is when we look at these issues, before we dedicate troops to a war, let’s look at all angles instead of just sending them over there and saying hostilities are over, as President Bush did, because the harder part is still to come.

Q: You described a vivid visit from Skip at the base outside of Baghdad where you embedded, and you wrote that you had conversations with him as you wrote the book. Do you still feel that connection?

A: I feel a connection, but it’s like he knew when I really needed him. There were times when I felt like I was going to break apart when I wrote the book. It took almost two years doing this, and if I hadn’t felt his presence, I don’t think I could’ve written it. I still feel him all the time.

When I was in Iraq he did actually appear to me. I never expected that to happen, but when it did I felt it was meant to be.

(Ashton reports for The Modesto (Calif.) Bee.)


San Antonio Express News

Review: ‘Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime’By Vincent Bosquez

“Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime”
By Darrell Griffin Sr. and Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr.
Atlas & Co., $25

Staff Sgt. Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr. was not your standard-issue U.S. Army fighting soldier.

While most soldiers fighting in Iraq use their downtime to rest, shower, and catch up on e-mail, Griffin would use his time to engage in lofty, worldly discussions on philosophy, theology and ethics, introducing multifarious thoughts and ideas in what he liked to call the “Great Conversation.”

Griffin frequently held these discussions in the war zone, until the day an insurgent’s bullet found its mark on the battlefield, killing Griffin and ending his philosophical search for a logical conclusion to the destruction he had witnessed during his three tours of duty in Iraq.

In a loving tribute to his son, Darrell Griffin Sr. seeks to understand Skip’s final days in combat and bring closure to the “Great Conversation” by completing the book they both intended to write together titled, “Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime.” The book provides a compassionate, yet unembellished account of Skip’s life, beginning with his troubled teen years when he ran away from home after being caught with cigarettes, to being arrested for selling oregano as marijuana at the Oakland airport, to a father’s difficult act of “tough love” that caused him to kick Skip out of the house for habitual drug use.

Having been discharged from the Army while in his teens for placing a knife to the throat of a fellow soldier, Skip’s life turned around when he met his future wife, Diana. He was 30 years old and happily married when he decided that living in security while other men were dying for principles he believed in was something he could no longer endure, so he re-enlisted in the Army.

Within five years of his enlistment, Skip would serve three combat tours of duty. Each tour affected him a bit more than the last one. As he once told his father, “Once you have experienced war, preparing for war and practicing it is harder mentally and emotionally.”

Griffin provides e-mail correspondence and excerpts from Skip’s journals that chronicle the violence of war and its effect on American service members and the Iraqi people. At times he seems to be overreaching as he discusses his son’s intimate knowledge of the early philosophers (they discussed Plato’s dialogue, “Euthyphro,” when Skip was 12), but it doesn’t distract from chronicling the journey both men took to seek the truth in their own lives.

Griffin still visits his son’s gravesite, located in the Los Angeles National Cemetery, every Sunday before church. Part of his ritual is lighting his son’s favorite incense and reading aloud some of Skip’s favorite authors — John Calvin, Friedrich Nietzsche, St. Augustine, and other philosophers and theologians whose works he read with a graduate student’s fervor, even though he never graduated from high school.

“Last Journey” is a compelling, heartbreaking read that fulfills a father’s promise to a son who sought to understand the Iraqi War on a philosophical level but ran out of time before he reached a final conclusion.

As a companion to the book, some of Skip’s combat photographs — very graphic in nature — can be seen online at, along with video footage of actual combat situations and a touching interview with Skip filmed 18 days before he was killed in action.

Vincent Bosquez is a retired Marine Corps captain and director of public relations at Palo Alto College.

 ====================================================================By The STockton Record

STOCKTON – Darrell Griffin Sr. wanted Stockton to remember his son Darrell “Skip” Griffin Jr., killed in Iraq two years ago. It’s clear that the city remembers father and son.

About 100 people attended a ceremony Thursday to honor Skip’s memory and support Griffin, a Franklin High School graduate and Stockton native who moved away two decades ago but still has family and friends in the area.

After his son, an aspiring author, was killed, Griffin traveled to Iraq to interview hundreds of Skip’s fellow soldiers. The goal: To complete a book that Skip wanted to write when he returned home.

Griffin made good on that goal.

“He (Skip) was there with me as I wrote,” the elder Griffin told the crowd Thursday outside the Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Weberstown Mall.

“He wasn’t just a soldier. He was a patriot, and he was my best friend,” the father said.

After the ceremony, the crowd waited for Griffin to sign copies of “Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime,” which contains many correspondences the Griffins shared, and their mutual thoughts on the war.

The line stretched out of the bookstore and wound its way into the mall.