When A Military Family Becomes A Gold Star Family

Family & Relationships

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from “My Father’s Son,” a new novel by Andy Symonds, the son of a Navy captain.


It was my mom’s scream from downstairs that finally shook me out of bed that morning. It couldn’t have been more than a moment after the doorbell rang and she left my room, but somehow I had managed to drift back into a protective sleep.

Suddenly I found myself standing at that sunny window in my bedroom, shades ripped back, my short breaths fogging the panes that just minutes before had brought light into the room. Now, through that same lens, my panicked eyes focused on a dark blue sedan parked in the driveway. Two ashen sailors were adjusting their covers as they respectfully stood at attention on the front porch. One appeared to be a chaplain while the other was wearing standard Navy Dress Blues – with one difference. My eyes instinctively went to the large gold pin on the stockier man’s uniform. It rested proudly on his upper left breast and blazed brightly, like it had a life of its own. The anchor, trident, eagle, and pistol. A relatively small object that told a much bigger story. That signified its wearer as a warrior elite. A U.S. Navy SEAL. It was the same pin that I had looked upon with fascination on my dad’s uniform. The same pin that when he let me hold it, under his direct supervision, I cradled in my cupped palms like the treasure it was. My eyes ignored the other ribbons and medals on the man’s uniform, the white collar on the chaplain’s dark suit. I stayed focused on that symbol of strength, drawing solace from the Trident. Not crying, barely breathing, but knowing what their presence meant.

I watched their faces register devastation as a second shriek echoed throughout the house. She must have been standing at the large plate glass window in our living room. From that window she would have a clear view of these nervous sailors standing on our stoop, bouncing on the balls of their feet. I knew she was hoping that if she didn’t open the door, didn’t invite them into her home, didn’t hear their message, then the inevitable wouldn’t have happened. I knew better.

Looking back, I gravely wish that I had walked down those stairs to comfort my mother and stand with her to face the notification team. As a matter of reason but not excuse, I can only say I was frozen in my confusion and rising heartbreak, which lead me to merely observe the scene from the distance of my bedroom window. My inaction that day is one of the great regrets of my life, and something I reflect on often.

While I watched them wait for someone to answer the door, I tried to pause time. No, I tried to rewind it. Not to reverse what had happened – I knew that was asking too much. But just to bring it back a few minutes, back to before the doorbell rang, before my mother retreated from my bed, before these two men came to the house that I lived in with my sister, my mother, my father. I knew that if I could just go back to that minute, to those precious seconds before I knew, back to when my mom’s cool hand was on my forehead, when everything was still fine – if I could just feel that peace and security one more time, I would never let it go. I scrunched my eyes as tightly as I could that morning, willing myself back to that place, as even now I still occasionally do. Sometimes, I almost get there. Almost. But as I unclenched my eyes that day, I knew nothing would ever be as it had.

What had been a sluggish swirl of motion quickly sped up, sending a rush of blood and adrenaline to my face. For a moment I thought I was going to barf, right there on the damn window. I was frozen to it, watching the chaplain and SEAL walk through the front door, my muscles contracted and tight. My stomach finally quieted and the sourness subsided. Time and sound seemed to pause, nonexistent for how long?

“Nathan, what’s going on?” Cheyenne’s tiny voice cut through cluttered chunks of broken time, finally moving me to action.

She was standing in my doorway in her favorite Hello Kitty pajamas, sporting untidy pigtails, disordered, rubbing her eyes. There was a sudden realization that at thirteen, I was now the man of the house. As Dad had always told me I was when he was gone. And now, he was.

Excerpted with permission from My Father’s Son. Available from Mascot Books. Copyright © 2015.

DoD photo

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

Read More Show Less