“When Justin finished high school, he decided that he wanted to join the infantry. I just blew up and said, 'You are my only kid, and the country is at war. Why would you put yourself in harms way?' He said, 'Mom, you should have had more kids. This is my dream and you need to man up and be strong.' I supported him, but I also used to clip news articles about war casualties for him to try and dissuade him, but he didn’t care.
"For all of his life, I preached college. He promised that when he got out of the Army, he would go to UCLA and then be a movie star. He was going to be the next Bruce Lee. It's funny, when he came back from basic training, he wanted to show me hand-to-hand combat, so he tried out his new moves on me.
"When he was first sent to Afghanistan, I was happy because I thought it was a safer place than Iraq. I barely even knew that the war was still going on in Afghanistan because we only heard about Iraq in the news. He was so excited because he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, which was one of the most deployed units in the military. He was being trained to fight and wanted to be deployed. He was sent to the Korengal Valley, which they call the valley of death.
"He was four months into his first deployment when he was killed by friendly fire on June 25, 2006 at the age of 19. I didn’t even know what that term meant until this happened. They were coming back from a mission and were being followed by the enemy. Justin's unit called for a mortar attack and someone got the coordinates wrong. He was the only one in his unit who was killed that day. The last time I spoke with Justin was on May 3oth, a month before he died. He said, ‘Don’t worry about me. You won’t hear from me for a while because we are going out on a mission. I'll be okay.’
"I was on a business trip out in Wyoming when this happened. When I was told I had to go, I was thinking, what if something happens to Justin? How are they going to find me? People told me not to think like that and take the trip. I had this anxiety and the worst thing that I thought could happen, happened. The Army eventually tracked me down and said they needed to send someone over to talk to me. I begged them to tell me over the phone, but they wouldn't. I thought they were coming to tell me that Justin was hurt and I would have to go to Germany, where the main hospital was.
"Finally, a few hours later, someone came over in dress uniform and asked, 'Are you Mrs. Davis.' I said, 'Yes.' The commander said, “Mrs. Davis, The United States Army is sorry.’ I just lost it and said this can’t be. I sat in a chair crying and crying. You always hear about that knock on the door. Mine came when I was thousands of miles away from home, in Wyoming of all places.
"After he died, the Army asked me where I wanted to bury him. Justin and I never talked about the what ifs. I remember him telling me once that all of the heroes are buried at Arlington Cemetery, so I knew that this is where he would want to be. Since he passed, I come here every weekend with my chair, Justin’s old backpack from school, some flowers, and my bible. I rush and work a lot during the week, so this is a nice time for me to slow down and reflect. I so feel Justin's presence when I am here. There are a number of people who also come here every weekend to see their loved ones. We take care of each other. We laugh and cry together and check up on each other. We have an informal support group.
"Since Justin, there have been so many other people buried here. I look out into the distance and think about all of the free land here just waiting for graves. I think about those families that will come here and grieve a loved one. I understand that there has to be war sometimes, but I think we should only go because nothing else that we have tried works."
Pfc Justin Ray Davis
1st PLT A Co 1-32 Infantry
1/28/87 - 6/25/06
Killed in Action in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan