Writing stories or thinking about our Killed in Action heroes and wounded-warriors is difficult. It's similar to hearing our National Anthem, when that unidentified part of our soul is contacted and emotions prickle our inner fiber ... multiplied. Those that are not in a military family, come from one, or are closely related to a U.S. service-member, can only imagine what our troops experience on a day-to-day basis. Throw in several back-to-back deployments hunting down the most despicable flesh on this earth, and the world becomes a very arduous and often lonely place for the spouse, kids, parents, and service-member. This is the 1st of several posts I will write on our fallen treasures, the men and women who've given all for America. This is the story of one American hero and close friend that left us too early.
Shortly after arriving at Caserme Ederle in Vicenza, Italy with my wife and kids about 10 years ago, we met a young lady at the post bowling alley on a sunny Saturday afternoon who's husband was deployed to Iraq. The affable small-town mother of two quickly befriended us and offered to loan us her husband's car since ours hadn't arrived yet. Mrs. Heather Doles explained that her hero-husband John, "was deployed and wouldn't be needing it for awhile." This encounter sparked an enduring relationship between us as well as our kids, who became playmates in and around Vicenza. We watched movies, the kids jumped through the summer on our trampoline, and we became excited in late Winter as her husband's unit began assembling in Iraq for the redeployment back to quaint Caserma Ederle. Those assigned to this small Army community 45-minutes from Venice are genuine, professional, and feature some of our best Army paratroopers. It is home to the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Sky Soldiers), who performed brilliantly in WW1, Vietnam, Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003 (The 173rd jumped into Northern Iraq during the initial invasion), and three tours in Afghanistan.
The 173rd returned home as heroes to deserved hoopla and fanfare in February, 2004. The post hosted an extravagant 'Welcome Home' bash with a carnival, food, family events, the Washington Redskins cheerleaders, drunk karaoke, and a concert featuring Oleander and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. SSG John Doles, an inexorable Army Ranger assimilated easily back into family life and became part of our new-found family friendship. The Doles family lived just a couple of duplexes down from us in the American Villagio housing area where the kids played little league baseball, soccer, and swam at the community pool.
Our car finally arrived from the U.S. a couple of months later and I used it to drive John to see his favorite band, Metallica, in Padova, Italy in June, 2004. He was a kid in a pudding cup as we meandered around backstage, cold beers in hand, frolicking with musicians and greeting his heroes in the band. The vibrant late-night summer air enveloped us after the show as we raced down the A-1 Autostrada, grins galore, back to Villagio housing. The concerts, barbecues, youth sports, and other escapades soon ended though, as John and the 173rd began training for their next mission in Afghanistan.
Airborne Ranger, SSG John Doles, American Hero, Afghanistan 2005
In March, 2005, the storied 173rd deployed to Regional Command-South, comprising Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, and Nimruz Provinces in Southern Afghanistan. John, squad leader in Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry, conducted operations in Eastern Afghanistan. It wasn't hard to fathom John being the respected squad-leader of his team, as this small-town Army Ranger played hard and trained hard. He was a man of character you could count on whether you were in a fight or a football game. "John knew his stuff, said Sgt. Brian Waterman, Doles' friend and platoon sergeant when they served at Folk Polk, La. "Stuff" is Soldier-tongue for squared-away, serious, a guy you'd want to be in a hell-hole with, and that's exactly where our country and family-loving combatant was that fateful day in September 2005. On a warm Friday evening in the shaw-wali Kot district near Kandahar, John's squad was ambushed by terrorists firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. The ambush didn't result in any American casualties, so the miscreant-weasels cowardly retreated and fled up a hill. John, pissed-off and never one to scamper from fear or danger, looked at his team and some British forces that were patrolling with him that night, and their instant reaction was to chase and kill. According to my other neighbor who was in the area of operations, "John easily could have regrouped with his Soldiers and planned a precise response to the ambush, but that wouldn't be John, now would it?" John immediately bounded up the hill after the vermin, leading his soldiers on a spontaneous hunt and destroy mission. Halfway up the hill and again leading from the front, John was hit by one large-caliber round fired by a sniper 100 yards away.
And just like that ... our father, husband, Patriot, friend, leader, Ranger, and precious American son ... was gone.
American cemeteries are filled with people like Johnny Doles - warriors that loved their country, that represent generations of family-members that have served (John's father served in Vietnam, and his grandfather and siblings served in the military), and are your best friend until you cross them. They die too young doing what they love to do, serving the greatest country God ever created.
Rarely a day passes that my wife and I don't think of Johnny and Heather. His name emblazoned on my wristband is a necessary reminder not only of a friend lost, of a heartbroken wife and children, but of thousands of under-appreciated American heroes that never miscalculated the value of honor, service, and freedom. Thank you, John, for being our friend and giving all for America. You're our hero, see ya soon.
In May 2010, John's Silver Star award for gallantry in action against an enemy of the U.S. was downgraded to a Bronze Star with 'V' device for Valor. That is a disgrace.
More pictures on this story at http://billyfreedomvet.blogspot.com