When a Soldier’s Last Breath Moves the Flag

cropped-ourlifelogs_isotype4

| This is the 241st story of Our Life Logs |


I was born and raised in Houston, Texas in the 1960s by a very open and loving family. While I was one of five sisters (God bless our parents!), we rarely got in trouble. Maybe it was because we were angels, or maybe it was because they both hated to punish any of us girls. In fact, I don’t remember my mom and dad ever fighting about anything other than who was going to set the punishment when one of us got out of line. Still, our parents raised us in a house full of patience and laughter.

After high school, I went to Illinois State University—the place I would meet Keith. I knew he was “the one” after our third date. It took Keith longer to figure out that I was the right one for him, but he eventually got there. He proposed the day after our graduation from ISU, and we moved to Houston, Texas together just two weeks later. We both got jobs with NASA contractors, and within three years, Keith was running his own department in international relations and protocol. Life continued its upward spiral, and we were just happy to be along for such a joyful ride! We decided to start our family the day we closed on our first house, and became parents for the first time in 1981, sharing our lives with our sweet son Lee. Lee was quiet—even as a baby—but so loving. But soon enough, we got baby fever—again.

Mountain Divider.png

Two years later, we had our son Christopher who really threw us for a loop! That boy learned how to do everything early. He was always in rush to do more and accomplish whatever was needed in the least amount of time. He walked at nine and a half months. Christopher wanted to ride a bike without training wheels when he was not yet four years old—which he did—regardless of me “putting my foot down”! Where Lee was pensive, Christopher was open and talkative. Honestly, we didn’t know such a big personality could fit in someone so tiny! And, it must be mentioned that Keith and I were the only ones who ever called him Christopher. Everyone else called him “Scooby.” No one can remember why family, friends, and even teachers started calling him Scooby. Perhaps it had to do with his funny, outgoing, giving, and uniquely strong soul.

Scooby believed that the most beautiful things can be found in the most hostile places. If there was a flower growing in the middle of a busy cement sidewalk, he would find it. I found out from other kids on the street when Scooby was still a small child, he would come out and water the lone flowers that grew between the cracks of any sidewalk that was on our street. It was Scooby’s spirit and bravery that taught me how to fully enjoy life, and it is within the same spirit I learned how fleeting life can be.

pic 3
Scooby in high school.

Mountain Divider.png

In between working and raising our boys, Keith and I captured so many memories with our sons, and before we knew it, we were sending our youngest to college. So, in August of 2001, we packed up Scooby’s car and moved him into his dorm room, three hours away from our home.

As we unpacked, Scooby insisted he didn’t want to keep his winter clothes with him. I laughed at him and said, even Houston can get cold in November and December! San Marcos would be too cold without warm clothes. Still, Scooby insisted he could get them later. He never did.

On September 11, 2001, one world ended and another one was born, when the first planes flew into the towers in New York City. Just a few days later, I got a call from Scooby. He told me that he’d finished his freshman fall semester with a 3.5 GPA, and had promptly joined the 101st Airborne.

The phone felt heavy in my hands. What could I say? He was 18 years old, and there was nothing we could do to stop him.

Mountain Divider.png

When he came home at Christmas to get ready for basic training, Scooby told me he had found a playwright by the name of Tennessee Williams in his Freshman Literature class. I watched his eyes dance as he told me how he had rapidly fallen in love with his writings about the world, people, places and things. I smiled. I had taught Scooby so many things, sure, but he always had a way of teaching me. Finally, he told me one of his favorite quotes by Tennessee Williams was “Death is but one moment, and life is so many of them.”

Scooby was deployed to Iraq in January of 2003 at 19 years old. We prayed. We fretted. We worried. We lived waiting for the phone calls he would make. We panicked if the line was too long at the grocery store, or traffic was bad on the highway when we thought he might call and we wouldn’t be home in time.

pic 4
Scooby on duty.

By the tenth or eleventh month of his deployment, I learned to live in what I call a fearful abnormal manner. No sound outside our window was too soft for me to hear. I always thought I heard a car door shutting, and if I dared to look out the window, then I would see military uniforms walking towards my doorbell. But I was always looking. It got so bad, my husband bought some new curtains for every window in our home that I had to move to one side to see out because I was constantly scanning our street.

Mountain Divider.png

It was December 7, 2003 when I knew something was wrong. There was nothing outwardly amiss, and to even the most perceptive person it looked like we were preparing for a joyous Christmas holiday. We had talked to Scooby the previous weekend—he was leaving Iraq by the 17th, and would be home for two weeks on leave. No, it was just another one of those bright, beautiful, cold, and sparkling blue-sky days…but it felt wrong. Two days later, I knew why.

Scooby had died during a routine security patrol on December 7th. Right before his vehicle hit a handmade explosive device that would be remotely detonated, he had shoved one of his vehicle mates to the left of him, and then he maneuvered his body so that his was underneath his other seatmate. None of them ever had a chance to ask him what he was doing. Neither could even ask why. Not even a second later, the explosive device was detonated. Scooby was the only fatality. His brother to the left and the right survived. Scooby would be so very grateful for that.

Every parent in the world knows the initial feeling that overtakes you when your phone rings in the dead of night. It is never good news. But I knew that already, when I picked up the phone. On December 9, 2003, we were contacted by a simple phone call that came in the middle of the night. There was no military car. No slamming car doors. Just a phone call and the dial tone that follows the explanation and apology. My heart had never felt so heavy.

When I look back, I think there must have been a million ways God tried to grab my attention throughout Scooby’s short life to help prepare me for what was to come, but either I missed the hints completely or when I caught them and began to worry, I would dismiss them as being overprotective or crazy. For instance, Scooby’s favorite movie was Braveheart, and he told me at least a dozen times, he hoped he was as brave when he had to die. I would chime back that he would be brave, but that was years and years away. Scooby would just look at me and smile.

Mountain Divider.png

Scooby’s funeral was two weeks later, and at his funeral they sent a Brigadier General. I remember what seemed to be a battalion of soldiers being there and one small pedestal to the side of his coffin which contained his black Army boots, rifle, and helmet. Scooby was posthumously given the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Combat Infantry badge. But what did those do for us at the time? All the metals and the patriotic speeches didn’t bring him back. We still couldn’t feel his hug or hear his laugh.

pic 1
From the funeral.

Through my tears and the hole in my heart, I heard the Brigadier General say that Scooby had told his Commanding Officer why he became a solider. It was not because he hated the enemy. He was a soldier because he loved his country. He loved his brothers who stood arm in arm with him during the battles, and the ones at home who were studying, going to college, holding down jobs, or just enjoying life. He did it all just because he loved.

That day, I learned from the soldiers who wept beside me. From them, I realized that every time you see a flag wave back and forth against the backdrop of a wide sky, whether it be the sun or stars that shine upon it, it is the not the wind that makes the flag wave and move. It is the soft sobs of the deceased soldier’s loved ones that makes it tremble. It is the soldier’s last breath that makes it fly. After all, they are the ones who suffered to protect it and live on through their love for it.

Mountain Divider.png

One day, a few months after Scooby died, I held a book from a box in Scooby’s closet. A book by Tennessee Williams. With every page I turned, a piercing pain seized my heart. Every line recalled a memory, every word, a tear. Suddenly I heard a whisper tell me, “Remember mom, violets in the mountains always break the rock.” It was Scooby’s favorite quote from Tennessee Williams and in my pain and grief, I had forgotten it. I began to trust the goodness of his life.

My son was much more than a 19-year-old soldier who died for his fellow soldiers, brothers, sisters, and country. He provided a light that warmed others. His spirit wasn’t quenched by that bomb. In the end, love wins because it endures well past the frailties of our human bodies. It changes us. It makes us stronger and better. It gives us hope and faith to believe that pain, tears, hate, and sadness fade with time. It allows all of us to walk hand in hand towards a future where we all believe and live in the power of love.

image008

This is the story of Diane Stevens

Diane “Di” Stevens lives in Texas with her husband Keith. After a childhood full of joy, Di fell in love and was ready to start her own family. After almost 20 years of motherhood, Di watched as her youngest son left for war, only to be killed less than a year later. In her grieving, Di learned the depths of a soldier’s bravery.

If Di is at home with her husband, then you can find her near or in a body of water. It is where she feels at peace and where she can talk to Christopher. Di and her husband love to go boating and head out into the Gulf where they always tell each other they are going to fish (but instead they just sit and enjoy the scenery).  If she is not home or on her boat, Di is visiting her two beautiful granddaughters, Lee’s girls, who are four and two. The youngest is named Christina after her uncle Christopher, and has his blue eyes and blonde hair.  Being with them reminds her how much Christopher would have loved them, but then again, he lives on through them and watches over them both as a guardian angel.

pic 2
From left to right: Scooby, Di, Keith, and Lee, c. 2000.

 

cropped-ourlifelogs_isotype4

This story first touched our hearts on January 4, 2019.

| Writer: Samantha Seconds | Editor: Colleen Walker |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s