Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The first time I spoke to Crissie Carpenter, she had just suffered an unimaginable tragedy. Days earlier, her husband had passed away after being wounded in Afghanistan, all while she was eight months pregnant with their first child.
Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter wanted nothing more than to get to know his son, Landon, when he returned from Afghanistan. While an enemy sniper robbed Andrew of that chance, the Marine's widow immediately resolved that Landon's father would always be in their son's life.
"I want Landon to grow up knowing who his daddy is," Crissie told me in March 2011.
Three and a half years later, Crissie still endures pain, anxiety, and the challenges of being a single mom.
"Some people will say that the more time goes by, the easier it gets," she told me on Sept. 4. "That's not necessarily true ... at least for me it's not."
Despite her constant grief, Crissie's focus remains singular. All of her remarkable strength and energy goes toward Landon, who is now 3.
"I'm just so proud of him," the young mother and widow said.
I attended Lance Cpl. Carpenter's memorial service on Feb. 28, 2011 in Columbia, Tennessee. The sight of his open casket is burned into my memory, as is the devastation on the face of his pregnant wife. Yet throughout this horrific ordeal, which started when her husband was shot in the neck on Valentine's Day, Crissie has embodied the military community's incredible courage.
"I finished my bachelor's (degree) last December, and am now in a graduate program for social work," she said. "So I feel like maybe God is just keeping us on path."
"As far as where we are today compared to where we were then, I feel like we've both grown in a sense that we're close," Crissie said. "We definitely have a cool relationship."
Still, the little boy has "had a long road," as his mother explained. Landon's journey helps contradict one of the biggest misperceptions about war: that a given conflict is over once troops come home. For many veterans, families of the fallen, and particularly children afflicted by war, America's post-9/11 conflicts will last the rest of their lives.
"It's amazing how many questions a 3-year-old can have," Crissie said. "I didn't expect that to happen so fast."
After Crissie gave a speech at an event hosted by Folds of Honor, which awarded her a scholarship for school, Landon had a particularly difficult question.
"He asked, 'Mommy, was my daddy shot by a gun when he died?'" Crissie recounted. "That sounds like such a grown-up question by a 3-year-old. I just kind of sat there and I didn't know what to say."
After collecting her thoughts, Crissie drew a comparison to the story of Batman, which her husband always revered.
"So now (Landon) relates his dad to a superhero, protecting us from the bad guys," she said.
Still, the questions about the circumstances of his father's death keep coming.
"I had to explain to Landon, that we want to remember daddy happy," Crissie said. "It amazes me what a 3-year-old can think about."
It amazes me how tough a 3-year-old can be. But when one considers the characteristics of his parents, maybe the little boy's tenacity isn't so shocking.
"Every day he surprises me with different things that remind of his daddy," Landon's mom said.
Crissie is also thankful for the outpouring of support she's received since the day her husband was shot.
"Everything that everyone has done has been an incredible blessing for us, and continues to be," she said.
Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter, 27, died on Feb. 19, 2011. Yet more than three years later, the fallen Marine, along with his wife and son, set an example that all of us can follow.
"I'm not always the best mom in the world," Crissie Carpenter said.
Yes, Crissie, you are.
COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM
BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice. Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, BROTHERS FOREVER is available now. To find out more about Tom Sileo, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website.
Friday, September 5, 2014
When 6-year-old Darren Baysore looks up into the night sky, he thinks of his dad.
"They were all about the stars and 'I love you to the moon and back,'" said Darren's mom, Jamie Baysore, wife of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Baysore Jr.
Less than a year ago, Darren's father made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Afghanistan. While the loss of a loved one is crushing for any military family member, the impact on a child is immeasurable.
"At first he was OK because he didn't really understand," said Jamie, while adding that war's painful reality is starting to set in.
Jamie, 31, met Thomas in 2006 through MySpace.
"He drove two hours to take me on our first date," she said with a chuckle. "His eyes were gorgeous."
In October 2007, Jamie exchanged vows with a soldier who embodied the very best qualities of a good husband.
"He was driven," she said. "He had everything together and he was all about family values."
Stationed on the Kentucky-Tennessee border at Fort Campbell, Staff Sgt. Baysore had already completed respective deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq before being called upon to serve a third combat tour. Under the evening sky, Thomas said goodbye to his wife and son just as the summer of 2013 began.
Not long after arriving in Afghanistan, the soldier told his wife that his unit faced serious challenges on a still-volatile battlefield.
"He said this deployment was worse than the one he went on after 9/11," Jamie recounted.
On Aug. 1, 2013, Thomas received word that several Afghan civilians had been injured in an improvised explosive device attack. The soldier recounted the day's events in his journal, which Jamie subsequently released to the media. The Standard-Journal in Thomas' hometown of Milton, Pa., reprinted the entry.
"The gentleman informs me that there is only one person injured, a girl about 9 years old," Staff Sgt. Baysore wrote. "She is laying in the back of one the vehicles. So, again I push the locals away for my own security and start to look at the girl.
"I saw that her face is somewhat messed up, a lot of blood, but no missing facial features (which is good)," he continued. "However, her right eye looks bad, damaged in some way. I asked if I can look her over being that she is a female and a little girl."
After receiving permission, Thomas began looking for injuries.
"I start checking the parts I can see, since they have her covered by some blankets," the soldier wrote. "Her legs were bloodied but I don't see anything major yet. I asked the local what other injuries she has. He told me her arm is gone. I said what do you mean 'gone.' I asked if it was recent or something that happened a while ago. He told me it was the IED. That's when they moved the blanket. Her right hand and part of her arm was gone."
Thomas sprung to action, finding more wounds to her thigh and working with medics to tie tourniquets. He asked his superiors to authorize a medevac flight for the girl, and agonized as the request went up the chain of command.
"I am literally staring this girl in the one eye that still is working, waiting for her to die in my arms," he wrote.
The helicopter arrived, and the little girl survived. Thomas saved her life.
"I'm glad you are my friend and I'm glad you were strong enough to fight for your life," Thomas wrote to the girl in his journal.
On Sept. 26, 2013, Staff Sgt. Thomas Baysore Jr., 31, was killed in Afghanistan's Paktya Province by "an enemy combatant wearing an Afghan National Army uniform," according to a news release.
"I remember falling in front of the door and my son asking what was wrong," Jamie said.
As Darren marks one year since the passing of his dad, an American hero who saved the life of an Afghan child, he has one deeply moving request.
"On (September) 26 we're asking everyone at Fort Campbell and everywhere else to leave a porch light on," Jamie Baysore said. "(Darren said) if you leave your light on, that dad can see that he's sending his love."
COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM
Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and co-author of BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice. Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, BROTHERS FOREVER is available now. To find out more about Tom Sileo, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website.