In a remarkable and welcome announcement, the Pentagon says that they are reviewing the death reports out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey ordered the Army to begin doing a unit-level investigation on every soldier's death. That was good news for those of us Gold Star Families who had doubt about the circumstances of the deaths of our loved ones.
I had accepted what the Army told me in May 2004; that Ken was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head from enemy fire, small arms fire. Yes, Ken was dead and the circumstances of his death weren't the awful part, it was that Ken was never coming home. I had waited and worried and cried for 384 days while he was in Iraq. And all of that worry, all of those tears were validated when I got that knock on the door on Memorial Day 2004.
One year ago, in September 2005, the Army came to my house in California in a surprise visit. Ken had been killed 15 months prior. I had no idea what the visit was for, there were no suspicions surrounding anything that happened that night in May. I did have questions about the specifics of the battle, but I didn't expect to hear anything surprising. Within 5 minutes of meeting me, the head of Army Casualty told me that Ken was not killed the way I had been told. He told me that Ken was killed by the accidental discharge of the M240 machine gun on his tank.
My world fell apart again and my heart was ripped open. ALL of the healing I had done had been erased. I was desperate to try and find some truth to anything I had been told in the past year. But the sun sets at night and it rises again in the morning and I would eventually get back on the path of healing. I will always be left with questions of why I was not told the truth during those first few days. Everyone in his platoon and battalion knew the truth. Honestly, I never asked any of them what happened that night. Ken was dead and nothing would change that. His unit was still in Iraq and I didn't want them to relive the horror of that night anymore than they already did. The stories would come out eventually, in a year or in 20 years.
I still hear from people who knew Ken, many of them are apologetic for not writing sooner, but that is not a concern of mine. They will contact me when they can and when they are ready.
Last September when I was told the truth, only one other case of delayed truth was known. The Tillman family from San Jose, CA was also not told the truth about Pat's circumstances; they were told the official "true" story 5 weeks after Pat was killed. To this day, they are waiting to hear the whole truth. Most recently this past June, the McCaffrey family of Tracy, CA was told the truth of their Patrick's death 2 years after he was killed. Nadia, Mary & I know that there are more untold stories of the truth than ours; that there are more families that have no clue their lives are ready to re-explode and now the Pentagon has admitted that we were right.
There is some validation that we strong woman who have been so vocal about knowing the truth have paved the way for other families. It is easier to change a policy than a culture and it will be difficult for the military. Let's hope these investigations will result in ALL families knowing the truth from the beginning. For now, we remain skeptical. Pat, Patrick and Ken would be proud of their moms.
The Army connected the dots with our stories and knew that they had failed Army families. As I told the Secretary of the Army when I met with him last September; the Army can do better. I hope they will.
The NBC Nightly News did a nice story with me about this last night. You can watch the clip here. A local Bay Area Station, KTVU also did a good job in reporting the story