Vet Who Survived Vietnam Buries Son Killed in Iraq
Mon Aug 30, 7:26 PM ET Add U.S. National - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Adam Tanner
BOISE, Idaho (Reuters) - Tom Titus experienced the shock of watching his best friend die in his arms during the Vietnam War in 1971. Reuters Photo
On Monday, the ex-Army Ranger felt the even greater horror of burying his only son Brandon, 20, killed on Aug. 17 by an explosion while patrolling a Baghdad slum.
Idaho's governor, a 1960s rock and roll star, grieving relatives and leather-clad Vietnam War veterans attended the funeral at a modern church before Pfc. Titus, who served as a gunner on a Humvee, became the first person buried in the new Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.
Such a scene of grief has played out nearly 1,000 times since the United States invaded Iraq (news - web sites) last year. Yet Americans rarely hear much about their fallen soldiers, who typically appear as a name or photo in the growing list of the dead.
The story of Brandon Titus is especially poignant because of his father's public anguish and an eloquent note the soldier left behind in the case of his death.
"You wanted me to be proud of you," an emotional Tom Titus, wearing his medals on his vest, said in his eulogy. "I just want to say to my child that this is the proudest dad in the whole world."
Tom Titus barely made it out of Vietnam alive after being wounded twice. In a 1971 incident, a mortar round in the jungle left the decorated soldier without sight in one eye. It took six months in a hospital to reconstruct his face.
Many of his "brothers in arms" wore leather biker jackets to Monday's funeral and more than 100 motorcycles rode in the procession.
Paul Revere, lead singer of the 1960s rock band Paul Revere and the Raiders, gave a eulogy and a member of his band sang a song in the service that had Tom Titus sobbing behind his hands. "If you ever think of me, think of all your liberties and recall, some gave it all," sang Omar Martinez.
LEGACY OF SERVICE
Brandon grew up with his divorced father from age 13 amid a legacy of military service, a family tradition for many generations.
"He was a proud man that spoke highly of his father Tom, a veteran himself. Brandon just wanted to live up to the Titus name," SPC Dave Huval, a member of Titus' squad, wrote in a message from Iraq posted to an Internet tribute page.
Before going off to war, Brandon left a computer disk with a message entitled, "My Time has Come," to be read only if he did not return from Iraq. Tom Titus broke down in tears when he read it aloud.
"I learned a lot from my dad and I wanted to be like him. I wanted to do something that would truly make him proud of me," he said in that message.
In many ways, Titus was a typical American kid, a football player and high school wrestler who shared his dad's passion for motorcycles. Resident of a strongly Republican state, he felt the need to give back to his country. "When I was in high school I was against any type of war or occupation of another country and I was ignorant to think the United States government was a bunch of B.S.," Brandon Titus wrote.
"When Sept. 11 happened, my opinion of this country changed very quickly. ... Things hit home when I watched a plane filled with innocent people crash into a building killing them all because of some coward terrorists who live in caves who thought they could divide America by doing this."
Brandon's enlistment two years ago upset his father, who exchanged sharp words with both his son and the army recruiter. Amid his grief, the father has now turned against the war.
"I shouldn't be burying him, he should be burying me," he said in a sometimes tearful interview. "The war is not worth it now. We need to get the hell out of there."
But in Iraq, fellow gunner Adam Ray's resolve to fight has hardened since the Brandon's death.
There are no words to describe what I feel. Maybe that's just as well. It's our actions that speak the loudest.
I'll keep him in my mind like I do Pat Tillman, and throughout my day, when I'm faced with a choice, to do good or to do bad, I'll know I'm responsible to do the right thing, because if I don't, then I'm saying to hero's like Brandon Titus "You died in vain, you died for nothing". He's gone, but I'm still here. Now what am I going to do to make my country better?
These young men made the ultimate sacrifice. The least I can do is try to uphold the principles they beieved in with such passion and conviction.