Former Staff Sgt. John Harris heard the doorbell buzzer ring inside his small apartment complex in Denver, Colo.
He stopped putting together a package for his son, Sgt. Blake A. Harris, who was deployed to Iraq. As he walked to the window, Harris wondered who would unexpectedly visit him at 9 p.m.
When he peered at the street below, Harris saw a captain and first sergeant in the doorway.
“I saw them standing there, and I knew what it was about,” Harris said. “People don’t come dressed in (green Class A uniforms) just to say ‘hi.’”
The two Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers told Harris his 22-year-old son died earlier that day, March 5, 2007, in Iraq, after a command-detonated improvised explosive device went off while he was on patrol in a Humvee. He was assigned to Fort Hood’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
The visiting soldiers sat with Harris, an 11-year veteran who served with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam, for about an hour before finally leaving the father whose only “little red-headed boy” died following his footsteps.
“You go through a myriad of emotions — denial, anger and depression,” Harris said. “I was telling myself that they were wrong ... thinking the Army made a mistake and Blake was going to call.”
But, he never heard his son’s voice again.
One last talk
Harris talked to his son two weeks prior to his death. The phone call was typical, but Harris said Blake seemed concerned about new improvised explosive devices that were being used to blow holes in the bottom of tanks — the same type of explosives that killed him and two soldiers in his unit that day.
Harris, who served in Korea, Vietnam and Germany, remembers trying to talk his son out of joining the Army, and enlisting in a different branch — one that deploys less often and to safer regions. But, after spending three years in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at South High School in Pueblo, Colo., Blake decided he wanted to join the Army and signed up for delayed enlistment when a recruiter came to campus his senior year. After graduating in 2002, he formally enlisted and started basic training.
“He saw pictures of me in uniform and stuff like that and decided he wanted to be like me and wanted to be in the Army,” Harris said. “It makes me proud that he decided he wanted to serve, and it makes me sad that he got killed and that any of (the soldiers) got killed.”
Arthur Hughes, a medically retired Army veteran of Desert Storm, is not a Gold Star father like Harris. But with many friends whose sons died overseas, Hughes sees a need to honor fathers of soldiers killed in action.
Hughes is advocating for a Gold Star Father’s Day, similar to Gold Star Mother’s Day, which has been observed the last Sunday in September since 1936, when Congress designated it a holiday.
Hughes met with his congressman, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., in February.
“The idea is under consideration. It could definitely be an idea whose time as come,” Michael Andel, spokesman for Scott, said in a Military Times article. “We’d like to hear more from other fathers in this situation about their experiences.”
Harris said he doesn’t know if a day for Gold Star fathers would take off, but still supports the idea.
“Men don’t talk about a lot of stuff like women do, so that’s probably why it hasn’t kicked off like the Gold Star (Mother’s Day),” Harris said.
Harris, a member of the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders, hands out patches that read “All gave some, my son (or daughter) gave all,” to other parents whose children were killed in action.
“I talk to them and tell them I know what they’re going through and that there’s other people out there that understand,” Harris said.
He believes he could have benefited from meeting other Gold Star fathers after his son died.
Harris didn’t talk or meet with others often after the death of his only child and anything — from a song on the radio and a television program to a certain date — can set off tears.
“It’s hard to explain unless you’ve gone through it. It was devastating. It was the worst day of life,” he said. “It’s gotten a little easier, but I still have my days when I get teary-eyed, like his birthday, April 25, 1984. And I’ll never forget (the day he died), March 5, 2007.”