Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Click

Images courtesy: Kim DeTample

Every time her 19-year-old son would call from Iraq, Kim DeTample would hear a distinctive sound before his voice.

"I would know it was him because there was a click...a delayed response because of where he was," Kim told The Unknown Soldiers. "I remember the click of the phone to this day."

After Pfc. Nathaniel DeTample arrived in Bayji, Iraq, an industrial city about 130 miles north of Baghdad, in May 2005, he told his mother about the country's inexorable heat.

"He told me to put my face up against a blow dryer," she said. "That's how hot it was."

Despite the harsh conditions, Pfc. DeTample was fulfilling a lifelong dream by serving his country.

"When he was a little guy, about three years old, he got his first buzz cut," the soldier's mother said. "From that day on, he always had that buzz cut."

Nate, as his mother calls him, joined the Boy Scouts at age 10, where he excelled and eventually attained the top rank of Eagle Scout. He also starred on the wrestling mat.

"He was a real determined young man," Kim said.

During his junior year of high school, Nate, whose father and grandfathers served in the military, committed to joining the National Guard.

"He believed in our country," his mother said. "He was one of the little kids who'd always stand for the pledge of allegiance."

After graduating high school, the eastern Pennsylvania native enrolled at Shippensburg University, near Harrisburg. But as other freshmen adjusted to college life, including the party scene, Nate's country came calling.

"I remember when he called and said he might need to report within 24 hours," Kim said. "That drive out (to Shippensburg) to pick him up, I felt like my son was going off to war."

On the morning of Aug. 9, 2005, Kim picked up the phone and heard the usual clicking sound. It was Nate, with whom she hadn't spoken in nearly two weeks, calling from Iraq.

"We're very fortunate that we got to talk to him that morning," she said. "It was truly a blessing that I'll never forget."

Less than 24 hours later, Kim got an early morning knock on the door. Standing outside was a U.S. Army officer.

"It's not good, is it?" the stunned mother said.

"No ma'am, it's not," the soldier replied.

According to the Pentagon, Pfc. DeTample, 19, Spc. John Kulick, 35, Spc. Gennaro Pellegrini Jr., 31, and Sgt. Francis Straub Jr., 24, were killed when a mine exploded and enemy forces attacked their patrol with small arms fire. All four soldiers were serving with a Philadelphia-based Army National Guard unit.

Nate's youth made it particularly difficult to accept his death.

"He was 19 when he died," Kim said. "He was a teenager when he died."

One of the grieving mother's only comforts is knowing that in her son's final moments, he was surrounded by fellow heroes.

"He served with the best," she said. "Three others died, and we will always remember them."

An outpouring of community support has helped the DeTample family cope in the years since. But almost nothing could have prepared Kim for having a son deployed in combat all over again.

Sgt. Staten DeTample, 25, left for Afghanistan almost exactly seven years after his brother arrived in Iraq. Driven by Nate's memory, Sgt. DeTample is making his entire family proud, even if his mother spends every day worrying.

"I know he's going to be fine," Kim said. "But on the other hand, you always think about Nate and the reality that a war is going on in Afghanistan. Hopefully people will remember that."

As her surviving son fights in Afghanistan, Kim is preparing to embark on her own journey to Iraq. Inspired by one of the last videos shot by Pfc. Nathaniel DeTample, in which soldiers are seen handing out shoes to Iraqi children, she wants to perform similar acts of compassion in a healing country where so many Americans and Iraqis made sacrifices.

"It's not just to remember Nate's spirit," she said. "It's to remember all the spirits."

In the meantime, Kim DeTample waits by her phone to hear Sgt. Staten DeTample's voice.

"It's back to the click," she said.


Note: The Travis Manion Foundation is helping Kim DeTample travel to Iraq and embark on her mission to help Iraqi children. To learn more about the Travis Manion Foundation's Challenge Grant program, please click here.

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