Keeping son's memory alive important to father
by Sheila Gardner, firstname.lastname@example.org
August 31, 2007
Lovingly, painstakingly, Brad Williams traces the letters on his soldier son's grave at Eastside Memorial Park with water repellent.
With a father's hands, he dips a cotton swab and outlines "B-r-a-n-d-o-n," protecting the headstone from water runoff. The bottom of the marker reads, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
Williams visits his 21-year-old son's grave several times a week.
"It's kind of hard for a dad to let go," he said Wednesday as he tended the gravesite in Minden.
"This is my way to take care of him a little bit and think about him."
Pfc. Brandon Williams, a 2005 graduate of Douglas High School, was serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad, dispatched to Iraq in March 2006. He was assigned to the 4th Brigade Team in Fort Campbell, Ky.
It's been nearly a year since he was killed Oct. 6, 2006, by a sniper's bullet in Baghdad as he guarded explosive ordinance disposal personnel - a year of birthdays, holidays, a brother's wedding.
On Tuesday, Brad Williams and his son Aaron were among a group of families of fallen soldiers invited to meet privately with President George W. Bush during his visit to Reno where he addressed the American Legion convention.
For Williams, the session with the president was more like a visit with a friend than sitting down with a world leader.
"The president did just a great job bringing it down to the personal level," he said. "It was like a fireside chat, like we were sitting in each other's living room discussing things. There was no entourage or members of the Secret Service."
Williams, a South Lake Tahoe Police Department sergeant, was contacted last week by the White House and told that Bush would be in Reno and wanted to meet with families of fallen soldiers.
"They met with about 10 families, they split us up into groups and put us in smaller rooms," he said.
Williams' group included the family of Sgt. Anthony Schober, 23, who died in May. Schober also attended Douglas High School.
"We were the last of a group of three that the president spoke to, probably for about 45 minutes. During that time he talked to us as a group and individually. Aaron and I spoke with the president for a couple of minutes - just the three of us. It was a very moving experience," Williams said.
He said the president expressed appreciation for the families' sacrifices and was tearful at times, acknowledging that he made the decisions which cost their children's lives.
"All of us talked among ourselves about how grateful we were that the president of the United States and leader of the free world took time out of his schedule to search us out," Williams said.
"That says a lot to me about America and the president. He never invited the press, he's not up for re-election. He seemed to have a burden on his heart for the families of the fallen," Williams said.
The president had advice for Aaron Williams, 18, a senior at Whittell High School.
"He asked Aaron about his plans and Aaron talked a little about Brandon. The president said, 'Man, it has got to be tough to think about your brother like that.' Aaron said it was and the president said, 'Go and do something in honor of your brother.'
"I was very glad to have Aaron with me. He was very excited about it. I think he had a realization that there are millions upon millions of people who would love the honor of having the president's ear. At age 18, he did," Williams said.
The president handed out commemorative medals to the family members and personal cards.
"He said if we were in Washington in the next 15 months to come by, that he'd like to show us the Oval Office," Williams said. "It was a very special once-in-a-lifetime occurrence and I hope we made the most of it."
Since his son's death, Williams has met some of the soldiers who were with Brandon when he died and other members of his unit.
One of his Brandon's closest friends in uniform gave Brad Williams a red metal "mourning band" which he wears on his wrist.
"He was with Brandon when he was killed and helped carry his body," Williams said.
"A lot of guys when they lose their friends make a point of ordering these bracelets," he said.
Williams said he takes every opportunity to meet with other families who have lost loved ones.
"I've met several parents who have gone through this," he said. "We're all very supportive of each other even though we don't enjoy the common bond. Sometimes, I meet these families to see if I am ever going to be OK. No matter how long it's been, we seem to be stuck in the same stage of grief. But it's our kids."