Tim O’Brien says, “Boom. Down.” That’s not how I remember it…

I grew up reading about war. I was fascinated by Green Berets, Army Rangers, and Navy SEALs. I read story after story and book after book about the fighting in Vietnam. I never cared much for historical research type books. I wanted the stories, the personal experiences, the war stories. These are the kind of stories that I write now, about my own wartime experiences.

I remember reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, where he described the death of a soldier as “boom, down. Zapped while zipping.” It’s a great book, and his writing can really help a reader get into the mind of a soldier. How are they feeling? How can they do this terrible job? What is it like? He doesn’t glorify the war. He doesn’t talk about explosions and massive firefights. It is just a simple, yet deeply expressive, explanation of his experiences in combat. While describing the physical burdens carried by infantry soldiers, O’Brien dips into the emotional burdens too.

He discusses dark humor and macho and dehumanizing language. It is all 100% true, and with a change of weapons, uniforms, and lingo, it could apply to almost any war.

“Boom, down. Zapped while zipping.” This phrase sticks out to me, because I don’t remember it happening so quickly or silently in my war. It was an explosion. BOOM! It didn’t go down. Smoke, fire, shrapnel, flesh, it all went up. We went up too, up to the intersection where the rocket came from. We unloaded, firing everything we had available. Machine guns rocked those buildings.

Glass. Glass went down, and so did bits and pieces of the walls that we were firing into. Brass shell casings went down to our feet. When the Air Force flew over, bombs went down. Smoke and flame went up. Pieces of roofs, wood splinters, and other debris went up. Then they came down, along with the walls that held them up. BOOM! CITY BLOCKS WENT DOWN.

Two weeks later, our brother-in-arms went down, to join those who went before him, and all those who have since gone.

Dagget Stone

Gone, but not forgotten.

10 Years Ago Today

I have a thin piece of steel. It is 6 inches long, 1/2 inch wide, and 1/32 inch thick.

It holds 77 little symbols that have no significant meaning when they stand alone.

65 letters—snthiavagtefstrngiotasaftrabostmbdecsbateivapamamthnIfodilramiqsa

10 digits—1512522005

2 periods—  .  .

When arranged in a particular order, these letters, numbers, and periods tell of a fallen warrior.

These letters, numbers, and periods serve as a reminder of a fallen son, brother, and husband.

He was a soldier.

He was a leader.

He was a mentor.

He was one of my closest friends in the army.


SSG IOASA F. TAVAE

1ST BN 5TH INF RGT 1ST BDE COMBAT TEAM

25TH INF DIV 2 APRIL 2005 IRAQ

AM. SAMOA


I wear this bracelet as a reminder. I don’t wear it everyday, and it is not the only one that I have. I don’t need bracelets to remember my friends, but sometimes these bracelets help me keep things in perspective.

When something is challenging…

When something is frustrating…

When something is stressful…

A bad day…

These bracelets remind me that today is not as hard, not as stressful, and not as bad as March 11th, 2003; April 2nd, 2005; August 22nd, 2007; April 1st, 2008; April 29th, 2008; May 1st, 2008; May 15th, 2008;  August 10th 2008; or probably half a dozen other dates that I could list.

KIA Bracelet Crop

I learned of his death through an email from our former platoon leader.

Tavae was leading men in combat in Iraq. I was in Afghanistan.

29, of Pago Pago, American Samoa; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.; killed April 2 when his unit was attacked by enemy forces using small-arms fire in Mosul, Iraq.

SGT Ioasa Tavae on Homeland Security at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland SGT Ioasa Tavae at K2, Uzbekistan Dec. 2001