A Florida mother sends her sympathies for Nevada’s losses
June 7, 2007
She called from Reno after hearing that Barack Obama would be in Carson City. Patricia Flanagan wanted to make sure we asked the presidential candidate what he would do to protect our troops.
The implication of her words didn’t strike me at first, so I asked why that question was so important to her.
Her answer was that her son, Dennis James Flanagan, might still be alive if our military and elected representatives had taken that question seriously. He died on Jan. 20, 2006, at age 22 on his second tour of duty when the Humvee he was in was blown up by an improvised explosive device.
Patricia lives in Citrus County, Fla., but was in Reno with her husband, Dennis, where he was competing in a bowling tournament.
Dennis, their son, was in the 101st Airborne Division. He joined after Sept. 11, 2001, because he felt duty-bound.
Patricia Flanagan, who had gone with her son to the recruiter’s office, remembers the day the news came. She was at a neighbor’s house and watched as the two men walked up to the door of their house. The men then went to the house on the other side, where Patricia’s mother lived. She could see her mother backpedal as the men delivered the message. Her husband rushed over and asked, “injured or dead?”
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Patricia has talked to her son’s friends, those who served alongside him. One of them told her he would have followed her son into hell because he was lucky and he gets the “vibe.” He had intuition … he knew when something was not right.
He knew that the day before he was killed, she said. He told a friend he didn’t expect to live through the weekend. “He said ‘If I’m still here Monday, kiss me because I’m lucky.” And, among the words he wrote in his journal on the eve of his death: “The time has come, My death nears. In the night, his call I hear.”
Now she continues to battle the grief. The family has set up a scholarship foundation. And she wants to make sure that our troops are wearing and riding in the safest equipment to be had. When her son was first deployed, he wasn’t issued an armored vest. On his first tour, he was issued jungle camo for desert warfare. “I’ll be the only bush in the desert,” he told his mother. He had the proper personal gear at the time he was killed, but she said there were better armored Humvees and other vehicles that might have protected him. Even now, that equipment is slow in coming to the troops.
“We should be mass producing whatever it takes to keep them alive,” she said. “Why aren’t we acting like it’s important to protect men who we put in harm’s way?”
When she was in Reno, she saw the headlines for Nevadans who were killed in the war and since then we’ve had another, Joshua Rodgers. Services for him will be on Sunday at Douglas High School at 10 a.m. The pubic is welcome to attend to pay their respects.
“Please extend my sympathy to the families in your area who have been affected by such losses,” Patricia wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. “Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to cover the emotions let loose by such headlines.”
Flanagan said the outpouring of support helped her through those initial weeks, and it will help the family of Joshua Rodgers.
“The people we loved and the people who loved him responded overwhelmingly,” she said. “We didn’t have to cook for two weeks.”
You can learn more about her son at http://www.sgtdennisflanagan.com.
• • •
If there were one possession I could get back from my childhood, it would be a stack of letters bound by a rubber band. They were between a mother and her son who was serving in Europe during World War II. I didn’t know either of them. The letters were in a box my mother purchased at a rummage sale, odds and ends she probably paid a buck for. She’d picked out the good stuff and the rest, including those old letters, were set out with the trash.
I was a bored teenager on summer break and picked them up for lack of something better to do. For an hour or more I read of their lives, their family, their memories. Each letter took me more deeply into their hopes and anxieties. The letters talked of their cottage on a lake in Northern Wisconsin, of repairing the boathouse, of fishing trips, of people with names that meant nothing to me. It was mostly idle talk, but I could imagine how important those bits of news must have been to a boy fighting overseas, so far from home.
At the bottom of the stack was the official typewritten letter informing the soldier’s family of his death. Just a few unadorned black sentences. Seeing it made me sit bolt upright. I went to show what I’d found to others in my family, and they listened politely, nodding their heads. But they were unmoved … they hadn’t gotten to know him like I had.
I don’t know what happened to those letters. I’m sure I saved them at first. Maybe they were stored away and then finally thrown out by someone not realizing what they were.
I don’t even recall the name of that soldier, but I know I’ll never forget the impression he made on me.
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org