A father's search for meaning takes him to battlefield where son died
BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN — The father, a warrior since his childhood in American Samoa, was the top enlisted soldier in a brigade of battle-hardened paratroopers. The son was 19, a dazzling athlete who had followed his father into the Army despite his parents' dreams of college for him.
They went into battle together, deployed to the most dangerous stretch of land in Afghanistan: the Korengal Valley, where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters controlled large swaths and American troops were fired on as they slept in their cots in precarious outposts.
Before they left home, the boy's mother told her husband, "You take care of my son."
On June 5, 2007, just weeks after they arrived, Command Sgt. Maj. Isaia Vimoto could not help Pfc. Timothy Vimoto. Timothy's first firefight, against an insurgent unit dug into the steep ridges of Hill 1705, was a furious battle. Bullets flew so thick the men couldn't hear each other.
His father was at the NATO base in Jalalabad, in the plywood hut that served as the brigade headquarters, when reports of the battle began to filter in. His commander, Col. Charles Preysler, gave him the news. "It's still to this day the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Preysler would remember five years later. "I had to muster the courage to tell my right-hand man, my sergeant major, that his son was dead. To see the pain of another father and see what that does to a man. ... That day is etched in my memory for all time."
How does a father find meaning in the death of his son? How does a man move on after he hears the wails on the other end of a scratchy phone line as he tells his wife that their son was not coming home?
Vimoto found some of his answers by returning to the battlefield to finish his tour. Then, three years later, he joined Fort Hood's 1st Cavalry Division and deployed again to the harsh lands of eastern Afghanistan, trudging the same stark mountains and ambush-laden valleys.
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