Friday, July 18, 2008


U.S. soldiers who died in Afghanistan were a few days from completing deployment

Some wanted money for school; others wanted to start a career in military

Relatives seek to reconcile their grief with their anger toward the military

By Emanuella GrinbergCNN

(COMMENT BY BILL CORCORAN, EDITOR OF CORKSPHERE. We are printing this story in its entirety because we feel it is story everyone should read, and because we know other than CNN the rest of the mainstream media will ignore a story like this as they do almost everything having to do with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.)

(CNN) -- Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected his days were numbered last week, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan.

"It's gonna be a bloodbath," he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone, in what would be their last conversation.

Kurt Zwilling braced himself for the worst but held out hope that his son would make it home.

"They were in the most dangerous place on Earth. They were in mortal danger, and there was nothing they could do it about it," he said. "But they were soldiers, so they had to do their job."

With just a few days left in their 15-month tour, Gunnar Zwilling and eight of his comrades were killed July 13 in a clash with as many as 200 Taliban militants during a mission to set up an outpost near Wanat. It was the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan in three years.

In the wake of their deaths, the paratroopers have become symbols of what many say is a forgotten war, prompting the U.S. military to draw up plans for putting more troops and resources into the war in Afghanistan. Watch why troops may have to wait for help »

But before they were national heroes, the young soldiers were beloved sons, brothers, fathers and husbands who were drawn to the Army for different reasons.

Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, 24, of Clinton, Tennessee, joined the Army against his family's wishes with the intention of jump-starting his college education.

Before joining the service in 2006, Hovater was a "man of God" who divided his time between his father-in-law's landscaping company and playing songs of worship with his family.

"Everything that God deposited in that boy came out when he played the piano," said his mother, Kathy Hovater, who home-schooled her son and his three siblings.

Shortly after Hovater joined his combat team in Italy, his sister said he called home and said he had made a "mistake," but was committed to following through with his service.

"He was a dedicated soldier. He did what he was supposed to do because he said if he weren't over there, all that horror and torment that was going on in the war, it would be over here," said his sister, Jessica Davis.

Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey, 22, of Haw River, North Carolina, also joined the Army as a means to pay for his college education so he could become a teacher, according to Jeff Terrell, the leader of the youth group at the Glen Hope Baptist Church.

"He wasn't going to be a career military guy, but he believed in what he was doing," said Terrell, who knew Rainey since his teen years. "He felt like this would help him. He enjoyed it, but he had other plans.

"He really wanted to teach. He had a good way with kids. Kids flocked to him."

Before joining the Army, Rainey spent his time doing martial arts, a pastime that came naturally to the high school wrestling star, and volunteering for his church's youth ministry.

"The kids loved to jump on him like he was a big bear," Terrell said. "He was a big kid, but he was gentle."

Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, 24, of Snellville, Georgia, seemed destined for military service since childhood.

"Jon was just very military since he was 3 years old. He looked at your shoes, and if they weren't perfect, they were no good," said his father, Bill Ayers. "He loved the regiment of the military; he loved order and schedule."

Despite his fastidious tendencies, Ayers' father remembers him as a "cutup" who never failed to amuse with his Jeff Foxworthy impersonation.

"He loved to see people smile and laugh," Ayers said. "He was not a prankster, but he loved to tell jokes."

For the free-spirited Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, 27, of Jasper, Georgia, the armed forces satisfied a need for adventure while providing a service to his country.

"Matt had a very individualistic personality. He loved living life," said his father, Michael Phillips. "Even though he was afraid at times, in every photo from Afghanistan, he had a big smile on his face."

Phillips, who left a wife behind, died on the same day that his sister gave birth to her first son, whom she named after him.

Like other grieving relatives, Phillips' father is attempting to reconcile his emotions with concerns over how the military handled the situation.

"We're torn between incredible pride and anger. We're having a difficult time reconciling that after 14 months, someone who served his country well and paid his dues, why would he be placed in such a perilous situation?" Phillips said.

"There have to be some answers for the family."

Dean Bogar, the grandfather of Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, 25, of Seattle, Washington, said he was troubled by the fact that his grandson was fighting in a Taliban stronghold with little reinforcements.

"That's a big question mark," he said.

Watch how the Pentagon is investigating the attack »

Even so, he said he is proud of his grandson for bringing "valor" to the Bogar name.

"He was a nifty boy. He had a great sense of humor and was outgoing and very bright and upfront with everything," he said. "Kind of clever little imp."

In the beginning, Kurt Zwilling said his son enjoyed the camaraderie, discipline and excitement that Army life offered.

"Everything he did, he did with a passion," Kurt Zwilling said of his son, who graduated from high school in Florissant, Missouri. "That's why he wanted to join the paratroopers, he wanted to go into the toughest thing and be with the best."

Even as the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan became apparent, Zwilling said his son applied the same determination to his service that had carried him through high school theater, sports and music.

"He walked into the valley of death and didn't flinch. He knew what was going to happen and he went anyway. That's bravery," he said.

For the parents of 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, 24, of Aiea, Hawaii, knowing that their son died doing what he felt was right brings some sense of closure.

"He was very happy doing what he was doing, and he wouldn't have had it any other way," said his mother, Mary Jo Brostrom. "That was what he wanted to do, defend our freedom and serve with his brothers."

Brostrom's parents said they are grateful they had the chance to spend time with their son in May, when he showed up unexpectedly at their door on Mother's Day with a bouquet of flowers.
He spent the next few weeks surfing, fishing and spending every waking moment with his parents and his 6-year-old son, Jase.

"When he came home, he would wrestle around and try and make us laugh," Mary Jo Brostrom said. "He had a beautiful smile and a beautiful heart and that's what we'll miss."


Anonymous said...

When asked about the war in Iraq in the early days I responded that I was afraid we had taken our eye off the ball in the GWOT. With two sons in the Marines I just wanted to make sure that our government didn't hold anything back to let them live through Iraq. Two tours apiece, I thank God but thing my country just plain got it wrong in this one.

My anger and no small amount of tears go out on this one. All the government bullshit about our vaunted video and satellite, unmanned flight can a unit of Paratroopers be hung out to dry with the world's largest and most expensive air force sitting around.

There aren't enough details available out this story to completely satisfy me...but...I can't understand it even one bit so far.

As a Recon Marine and a grunt I know the risk involved with putting recon teams out for purposes of observation and light interdiction...but this was an Airborne combat unit and I am enraged that nobody was watching these friendly air on call.

I am familiar with the 173rd, I was with a liason group (Anglico) serving with them in WESPAC. Their use of pre-planned fires and protective measures against things that go boom in the night were and still are fine...

Who was watching these guys, for God's sake?

Why do we still have an afinity for "lines"? Were these guys out there as bait?

Backburner war...bullshit...bullshit...bullshit. I read the CNN article and just plain damn cried. This is the flower of our youth, the best we have and they were HUNG OUT TO DIE...unless some one can provely.

Fight this war like it is a real war or get the hell out. We've personally screwed Afghanistan as a state far too many times in my short lifetime.

Ironically, I'm reading a book, "The Last Valley" about Dien BInh Phu. There are many accounts in this book about the small unit actions in that action where small outposts were over run and the Viet Minh used these examples to build their ultimate stategy from Na San to Dien Binh Phu.

Are we going to let the Taliban and Al Qeada build a playbook by sacrificing men like these.


Go in to win or give the keys to the country back to the Taliban.

-Nolan School, Atlanta GA. 18 Jul 08

Bill Corcoran said...

Hi Nolan:

First, I want to thank you and your sons for your and their service to our country.

I couldn't agree with you more about how these troops were hung out to dry.

I still remember like it was yesterday, but it was over 50 years ago, I was going through basic and combat engineer training at Ft. Belvoir, VA. and we were ordered to "storm" a mountain that was in control the company going through basic a week ahead of my company.

I was a squad leader and when we got to the top the mountain and found no resistance I went to where a 2nd Lt. from West Point was sitting and looking at his map book.

I asked him what happened? Why no resistance?

He just sat there on his steel pot shaking his head and muttering over and over; "Shit. We attacked the wrong mountain."

I went back to my squad and told them what had happened and one guy said: "And an asshole like this is going to lead us in Korea. SHIT! Our ass is grass!"

Thanks again for your service and your son's service in the Marines.

Semper Fi from an old (very old)dog face.

Bill Corcoran, Chicago, editor of CORKSPHERE

Anonymous said...

I have enormous pride in our military and can't ever seem to say enough about their dedication and sacrifice. We truly have the greatest military in the world today.
That said, I have serious questions concerning the motives of our political leaders and the occupation we are involved in overseas. Please help me understand the quoted text below...

"He was a dedicated soldier. He did what he was supposed to do because he said if he weren't over there, all that horror and torment that was going on in the war, it would be over here," said his sister, Jessica Davis.

I have heard comments like the one above since 9/11. I would like to believe that this is true, but something keeps nagging me...and I think it's the gaping hole we call the U.S./Mexico border. Are we to believe that Al Queda and other terrorist organizations, given the two choices of fighting the greatest military in the world and crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S., they choose to go to Iraq? Illegals are pouring into this country undetected, and I think we can assume that the drug trade is alive and well...somehow the drugs still make it into the U.S.
Why would the mere presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan lead some to believe that terrorists will only attack our troops?
I know the government is trying to build a wall on the border, but why so late? It's been almost seven years now, and we're suddenly concerned about the border?

Bill Corcoran said...


You do know, of course, that the 9/11 hijackers gained entry into the United States through Canada and not Mexico.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do understand that, so why do we assume that we are taking the war to "them". If they wanted to, they could cross the open borders as the illegals or drug dealers do?
If we knew where "they" were at all times...if "they" were contained primarily inside the borders of a country or region, then I would say yes, we could take the war to them, but since they could be anywhere in the world, I find that hard to believe.
I don't know, maybe it's harder to cross the borders than I think. Maybe the terrorists are that ignorant and would wage war in the middle east with American Soldiers. I just find it odd that given the absolute hatred they have for the U.S., that we haven't been attacked again in almost seven years. Meanwhile, so many others have passed through the borders undetected.