As a young man I joined the Marine Corps and in 1969 I found myself in Vietnam as a rifleman in an infantry company where I was wounded pretty badly and ended up being evacuated and medically retired.
Fast forward to Sept. 15, 2005, and I was driving along here in Santa Clarita when my cell phone rang and I saw it was from my son Joe in Iraq, so I answered with, “Hey buddy what’s up?”
We talked on the phone almost every day while he was deployed, but this time I immediately sensed something was wrong because his voice was very weak and he just didn’t sound right.
He proceeded to tell me that he was in the hospital in Baghdad and that his Humvee had been hit by an IED (improvised explosive device). He and his guys were all wounded and his close friend Sgt. Alfredo Silva, who was driving, had been killed.
At that moment I had to pull off the road, I was shaking so bad and holding back the tears, not wanting to make a very bad situation even worse for him.
Joe, in his very typical way of downplaying everything, told me he was fine and would call me later to give me an update on everything and we ended the call.
Needless to say, I broke down immediately and had to sit there in my truck for quite some time before I felt it was safe to drive home because I was shaking so badly.
In a subsequent phone call the next day, Joe related to me that when his Humvee was hit with a command-detonated IED, which went off directly under the driver’s seat right next to him, he and his guys, Sgt. Seth Ladabouche, who was in the gun turret, and Cpl. Nick Weber, who was in the back seat, were blown out of the vehicle, which ended up off the side of the road down in a field and on its roof.
Sgt. Silva was killed immediately by the blast coming up through the floor right under his seat and the team’s Iraqi interpreter, “Falcon,” riding in the back seat next to Weber, was also wounded from the blast and the subsequent vehicle rollover.
Ironically, they saw the Iraqi bad guy who had set off the IED and took him prisoner (seen sitting next to the overturned Humvee in the picture below).
My son called it in to his base and they sent out a vehicle to evacuate them, but he and his two surviving men refused to leave until they could get Silva’s body out of the Humvee because they didn’t want to leave him there where his body may have been desecrated by the bad guys.
Joe finished out his tour in Iraq and a few years later retired as a master sergeant after 21 1/2 years in the Army. He now works for Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as their public affairs specialist for the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion and also does public affairs for the Black Daggers, the special operations parachute team.
He recently wrote a really nice article about the Air Force pilot who flew the last U.S. plane out of Afghanistan with the last remaining U.S. soldiers aboard.
At the time Joe was wounded, my folks were still alive, and when I called to let them know about Joe, my mom answered the phone.
My mom was a Gold Star wife who lost her first husband, my sister’s dad, in World War II when his plane was shot down over Burma, and she also had her older brother wounded badly as a Marine fighting on Iwo Jima and then had me wounded badly in Vietnam — and now I was having to tell her that her grandson was wounded in Iraq.
I can honestly say that almost losing my son hurt me far more than my physical wounds from Vietnam ever could have, but it also made my mom and I much closer in her remaining years before her death — because we now shared something as parents that we hadn’t before.
So, at least something good came out of this otherwise terrible incident in addition to my son surviving and coming home.
Rick Barker is a Valencia resident who serves on the Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial Committee. The committee’s SCV 2023 Memorial Day Ceremony is scheduled 10 a.m. Monday at Eternal Valley Memorial Park, 23287 N. Sierra Highway. The event is planned to include a tribute to Purple Heart recipients as well as a flyover by the Condor Squadron, which flies World War II-era AT-6 fighter-trainer aircraft.