Comfort comes from knowing they believed in what they fought for
People say the intensity of their grief will fade with time. Patricia Allison and Lynn Chapman would like to believe it.
But on this Sept. 11, the mothers ache from the loss of their sons, both soldiers killed in the line of duty while fighting the war against terrorism.
Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman, 31, of Puyallup became the first U.S. soldier killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan on Jan. 4, when he was ambushed after meeting with tribal leaders.
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On Feb. 22, Spc. Thomas F. Allison, 22, of Roy was killed in a helicopter crash in the Philippines during a mission to train local soldiers to fight Muslim extremist guerrillas.
The Chapmans and Allisons say today will be difficult, but one of many rough days - birthdays, anniversaries, holidays - without their sons.
"It is kind of hard to remember 9-11 now," Lynn Chapman said. "That's why my son went to Afghanistan. It's a little more poignant."
They find some comfort in the knowledge their sons died fighting for something they believed in with all their hearts. They died to protect America and the world from another Sept. 11.
"We're very, very proud of what he was doing," Patricia Allison said.
Allison remembers when her son called home after the terrorist attacks last year, he first wanted to make sure his parents were all right. After that, she remembers the anger in her typically tenderhearted son's voice.
"He hoped there was something he was going to be able to do," she said. "You hear about all these patriotic people - he lived it."
Thomas Allison wanted to join the Army ever since he was little, his parents said. He took special classes so he could join an elite unit known as the Night Stalkers, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He became a helicopter crew chief and was training to be a flight engineer.
Patricia Allison stresses that her family bears no ill will toward the Army. She said the military has been "absolutely fantastic," from the casualty liaison officer assigned to help them, to the other soldiers in the 160th, who treat them like family.
She cherishes a letter her son wrote in 1999, saying how much he loved them. He warned that his job was dangerous, and told them: "If I do die, I died for God and my country. I will be waiting for you in heaven."
The family's strong Lutheran faith is a comfort. They do believe they will reunite in heaven. But here on Earth, Patricia Allison said, she misses her son.
"The hardest thing is, he won't be back again," she said. "We will have to live the rest of our lives without him. That doesn't seem possible. I can speak it, I can say it, but it doesn't seem that can possibly be."
Special Forces soldier Nathan Chapman was stationed in Thailand last Sept. 11, and unable to call home. But his mother learned later that he was eager to join the battle against the terrorists.
"He went to his supervisor and wanted to go do something," Lynn Chapman said from her home near Austin, Texas.
Chapman volunteered for duty in Afghanistan. Before he left his family in Puyallup, he told his wife there was a 50-50 chance he wouldn't return. He gave her a heart pendant that broke in two so they could each wear half.
"He volunteered for it, knowing full well just how dangerous it was," Lynn Chapman said. "He was a pretty courageous man."
Renae Chapman, his widow, lives in Puyallup with their two young children. Lynn Chapman said her daughter-in-law is doing "as well as she can" and has appreciated the support she's gotten from the military.
After Chapman became the first soldier killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan, his parents came to Fort Lewis, where he was stationed for most of his career, and faced reporters and TV cameras to talk about their son. Now they live quietly in Texas; they have good days and bad days.
"It doesn't get any easier," Lynn Chapman said.
But there are small comforts. Recently the Chapmans got a phone call from a soldier who was on the airplane that brought Chapman's body back to the United States. He told them there wasn't a flag available, so he took a flag patch off his uniform and put it on the coffin. He sent them the small flag in the mail.
"What a touching thing," Chapman said softly. "It's comforting to know that people cared."