"How do you start a letter like this? How do you end it?"
On a raw November morning here, along the wild frontier bordering Pakistan, Lt. Col. Michael Fenzel spoke those words as he sat down to write to a father who would never see his son again.
Images ran through the colonel's mind. His own two toddler boys, growing up quickly every day he is away at war; the parents of Private First Class Jessy Rogers, whose own child would be forever 20 years old, his age when insurgents detonated a bomb under his Humvee.
Meantime, last October, Lt. Col. Fenzel had written his own letter to Ms. Hepner, 47, who owns a small office- and house-cleaning business in Woodstock. "It has been almost a month since we lost your brave son Thomas to enemy fire," it began. "And the days that pass in between don't make it any easier to be without our brother, your son."
The colonel went on to describe how, during the fatal ambush, PFC Wilson manned his machine gun "bravely and brilliantly" in an intense, 30-minute firefight, before he was shot. His actions saved the lives of 10 other paratroopers, the colonel wrote.
"Please also know that you have gained nearly 800 of Thomas's brothers as your sons, if you'll have us," he wrote to Ms. Hepner.
It was the message she wanted to hear. "What more can a mother ask for," she says, "than knowing that he died in the arms of people who loved him?"
Two letters are included with the article for you to read. Be sure to have your tissue box ready.
Hat Tip: Blackfive