Douglas High graduate killed in Iraq
October 11, 2006
South Lake Tahoe – Phillip Brandon Williams, 21, a former resident of Gardnerville and South Lake Tahoe, was killed by sniper fire in Iraq earlier this week as the military police officer was protecting soldiers searching for improvised explosive devices.
Brandon, as he was called, was on his first tour of Iraq after graduating from the 787th Military Police Battalion in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., earlier this year.
He was the son of Lisa Hall and South Lake Tahoe police officer Brad Williams. He wanted to follow the family’s footsteps into law enforcement, according to his uncle, Brian Williams, also a police officer with the department.
Brad Williams said his son was a whiz with computers and that he tried to talk him out of military service.
“I’ve grown up watching you go out to protect the people of South Lake Tahoe who you don’t even know, and that’s what I want to do for those people over there,” said Williams, in recalling his son’s answer.
“His absolutely biggest fault was he wanted to help people even when he couldn’t,” Brad Williams said. “He was burdened by other people’s problems. I think that’s what drove him to go to Baghdad.”
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Specifics of Brandon’s death are limited, although Brian Williams said his nephew was killed instantly. He was on top of an armored vehicle manning a gun in Baghdad while guarding Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel who are trained to eliminate roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices, according to Brian Williams.
“I know that he would want it known he was a Christian man,” Brad Williams said.
A headstrong soldier
Dispatched to Iraq in March, Brandon was expected to return stateside Nov. 17 and possibly be home for Thanksgiving during a lengthy leave, Brian Williams said.
Brandon’s brother, Justin, left to join the U.S. Marines two days after they graduated together from Douglas High School on June 17, 2005.
Williams received an adult diploma through the independent study program at Douglas High School. Counselor Michael Caughlan recalled the student as determined, and always calling him “sir.”
“He was really excited about going into the military and just wanted to do whatever he could do to expedite that,” Caughlan said.
Justin and his brother had a feeling of patriotic duty after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As children, the brothers would pretend they were soldiers, Justin said.
“We shared a room together our entire lives,” he said.
The two missed seeing each other by 12 hours when Justin returned home from leave and Brandon ended his. Justin was disappointed.
“He was a good man that could have been great,” Justin said. “Obviously his life was cut short, but God has a plan for everybody.”
A friend ’til the end
Brandon’s body is scheduled to arrive in Dover, Del., today. Justin will then escort his brother to Reno where Brandon’s life might be celebrated with a motorcade. Funeral details are pending.
Jake Cervantes, 20, remembered when his best friend visited Gardnerville during a week-long leave in August. Brandon was in town for the birthday of his sister, Amy. He also has a brother Aaron.
Using money from his enlistment, Brandon paid for meal at Outback Steakhouse for his friends.
The friends met in eighth-grade science class at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School by creating and exchanging sci-fi stories. They stayed friends, shooting guns in the Nevada desert and having a love for America.
When thinking of his friend, Cervantes recalled Brandon as a guitar player who would record his own songs. While in Iraq, Brandon would use a laptop to match anime with songs, making his own videos.
He hopes someone will bring Brandon’s laptop home.
When he learned of Brandon’s death, Cervantes said he had trouble sleeping.
“It was probably some of the worst news I ever heard in my life. I may not be a brother biologically, but I still am,” he said.
‘The kind of kid every parent wishes they had’
Descriptions of Brandon paint a conflicted man.
“About a week ago he called to say he was scared, and it was tearing him apart and he wanted to come home,” Cervantes said.
“He was just scared of having to go out there and kill people he didn’t know and having fear of getting killed.
“He never regretted it,” Cervantes continued. “He wanted to do something with his life.”
Yet in phone calls to his father, Brandon would tell of Iraqi men wanting to shake his hand and children waving at the camouflaged warriors, Brad Williams said.
Already a decorated soldier, there were tales of Brandon’s heroics, including being the only one to return fire in a skirmish.
“I don’t know,” Brad Williams said. “It was kind of amazing how such a gentle man could be such a good fighter.
“He was extremely strong in his loyalty. He was loyal to his friends, his family, his country. He was the kind of kid every parent wishes they had.”
And, as Cervantes tells it, the kind of friend every person wishes they had.
“If I could, I would have taken his place for anything because he deserves life more than a lot of people do sometimes,” Cervantes said. “More than I did. He deserves a lot of things.”
Williams was assigned to the 4th Brigade Troop Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky., according to a release by the Department of Defense.
His awards include the Army Service Ribbon, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal. His pending posthumous awards are the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Overseas Service Ribbon.