My wife and I have 4 sons and three of them served in the U.S. Military. Our second son joined first. He joined the Louisiana Army National Guard. Jon joined because of 9/11. Our third son followed his older brother and joined the Louisiana Army National Guard. Our fourth son joined the U.S. Air Force and still serves. Jon got two of his friends to join with him, Seth Trahan and Jonathan Stafford. My wife and I became involved with the family readiness group. We raised funds for Jon’s unit to send care packages. His unit was deployed in 2004 to Iraq. It was still a shooting war. We had to come to the understanding that Jon was in God’s hand, here or in Iraq. They were stationed in Baghdad. They patrolled the southern part of the city. Their road block was one of the most active in the conflict. Jon was part of the security for the 10th mountain, in their search and capture of Hussein’s sons. Jon earned his combat infantry badge for the action.
Jon had never been to war. He never knew the terror of war or saw death before. We had talks before he left about death and what to do about it. But he was going to experience it firsthand. His unit lost 5 soldiers that year and a 6th soldier from Crowley also died. They lived close to the war at the Baghdad international airport. The base was attack on occasion, one time their cafeteria was attacked by rockets during lunch. We would talk on the phone every so often. I saw he was changing. Once, we hooked the computer and his brothers and I talked face to face with him. He had lost weight and it really bothered him to see us. He was homesick. A soldier’s life is never easy. It requires due diligence.
My third son went to basic training while Jon was in Iraq. We didn’t know that he would be in the middle of a war with nature. He returned in time for Hurricane Katrina. He was stationed at the Super Dome in New Orleans. Joel had joined the SRT team. The Sudden Response Team, all police offices and military police, were at the beckon call of the Louisiana Governor. The call went out and all forty five soldiers were stationed at the Super Dome. I didn’t get the chance to talk to Joel about death. It was the first time he saw death. The total body count for Katrina was 1800 dead and 700 missing. They stayed in New Orleans until they were called to Lake Charles for Hurricane Rita. My son grew up as fast as his older brother did in Iraq. We brought him care packages just like his brother overseas. Military life includes all the family, not just the soldiers.
My wife and I attended all the funerals for Jon’s unit. We met many of the soldiers and their families that served with Jon. We began to know the military family in Louisiana. Through the Family Readiness Group, we met family member’s state wide. Vicky became a leader in group. One of the hardest times we had with the military family was coming. We had to function to help this family, thought it tore out our heart.
On February 19, 2005, it was a regular Saturday morning. I was doing anything unusual. The phone rang and it was Jon in Iraq. Vicky answered the phone, but Jon wanted to talk to me. I got on the phone and asked how he was. He told me that his officers had allowed him to call home. I immediately asked if he was wounded. He said no. Then I asked about Jonathan and Seth, if they were wounded. He said no. But he was not allowed to say that Seth had died. When I asked about Jonathan, he said no. When I asked about Seth, if he was wounded. He said it was worst. I knew the Seth was dead. I talked to him to encourage his heart. Death had come home to roost. We talked for a while longer, but he had to get off the line. I told Vicky and cried. We couldn’t tell anyone about Seth. My phone began to ring off the hook. I couldn’t say a word. Vicky called the head of the Family Readiness Group and it began. The Company Commander, who was home on leave, and the Bereavement Officer went to Seth’s home to tell his parents. They weren’t at home, but his youngest sister was. Until the family is notified, no one can say anything. We prepared food and any kind of help we could provide.
I knew this boy almost from his birth. My family grew up with his family. His dad was my pastor. Seth had a military escort from Iraq to Crowley. There was a state, sheriff and city police escort from Baton Rouge to the funeral home in Crowley. The Crowley Fire Department escort him to the funeral home. His comrades in arms were still in Iraq and couldn’t come for funeral. Military personal statewide came to the funeral. The Commanding General of the Louisiana National Guard came to the funeral. Seth won the Bronze Star for his action that day. Honor should be given to this young man, but he is no longer here. It has been ten years since his death and it still affects me.