A “Gold Star Dad” Remembers His Hero Son
“It’s Memorial Day in America / This is how it’s supposed to be /
Let’s remember our fallen heroes / In the land of the free.”
– James McMurtry, “Memorial Day”
by Bill Nevins of Black Lake, NM, Poet and Contributing Writer
On Memorial Day we honor all our fallen heroes. I would like to share the memory of one particular hero who, though deceased, lives always in my heart and mind and in those of all who knew him: Liam Jules Henry Nevins, my dear son.
SFC Liam J Nevins is honored with a brick that I had the honor to have placed at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire. I applaud the kind generosity of the Memorial in welcoming heroes who fought in wars other than Vietnam, while I also honor the bravery and sacrifice of our Vietnam War veterans. My son, born September 11, 1981, joined the US Army in 1999, became a paratrooper and soon earned his Ranger patch. He served on multiple deployments with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan and Iraq as a combat sniper and squad leader and, later, as a communications specialist. After a period in civilian life and college, he later joined the Colorado National Guard and Army Special Forces (“Green Berets”), having completed the SF training course and language school where he mastered Arabic.
Liam was born in Vermont, grew up in New Hampshire and lived in Pennsylvania where he graduated, high school. He was a happy kid who loved playing baseball, riding his BMX bicycle, snow-boarding practicing his spray-can wall- artwork, and reading history books, often on Irish and military history. He also loved his mom and his two older sisters and he was popular with his class mates. When my first wife and I divorced and I moved to New Mexico, Liam and I stayed close even when we lived many miles apart. We had a good rapport and he shared my some-times ironic sense of humor. He kept in shape, ate healthy food and often advised me on diet and exercise despite my unathletic tendencies.
He knew all about my long- time history of educational peace-advocacy work--including my small contribution to the successful Irish Peace Process-- and that was fine by him.
Liam often visited with me in New Mexico, a land he loved, and as an adult he bought a house in Denver Colorado and completed his college degree there. He loved to ride his high- powered motorcycle and to explore the Rockies with his buddies. He was proud of his pickup truck and his back- country survival skills, and he loved hip-hop and the fierce, righteous music of the band “Rise Against”. For a time, Liam was head of security for the Denver Broncos, who honored him and his beloved mother during an in- game ceremony not long after his death. His two sisters—a championship skier and landscape architect and an organizational IT executive and devoted mom—both admired and cherished him and he returned their respect and love. He also fell in love with a strong, beautiful young Colorado woman of Vietnamese descent who learned to sky-dive in his honor after he died and wrote eloquently of their unfortunately- brief but loving time together in a published memoir.
Of course, I wish Liam were in this world with us still. I miss his smiles, his hugs and his good-humored Irish “slagging” of his bookish “old man”. I once mailed him a bottle of top shelf Redbreast Whiskey (his favorite) to his forward operating base in the mountains of Afghanistan. When it arrived, he phoned me to say, laughing, “WTF, Dad, you DO realize we are in a combat zone in an Islamic country, don’t you?” He then shyly admitted that the bottle was already empty and his comrades had smiles on their faces. He was a generous guy. He often spoke of how he wanted to help the people of Afghanistan to gain education and a more secure life. He did what he could to advance that worthy hope.
Liam died suddenly on September 21st, 2013 when Taliban-allied Haqqani Network Tajik gunmen wearing Afghan Army uniforms opened fire during an arms- training exercise on his Forward Operating Base in Paktia Province, near the Pakistan Border. Two of his “Green Beret” comrades also died in this attack, and another was seriously wounded. Liam was on the base recovering from a severe shoulder rifle-wound suffered when his combat team was ambushed a month earlier. He could have been medically evacuated from Afghanistan but he refused to go until his team was scheduled to leave a few weeks later. Liam was a very loyal man. He had volunteered to help in the weapons-training during which he was struck down.
His military funeral in Denver was extraordinary, as requested by his mom who felt that all fallen heroes should be so honored. There was martial music, combat jet fly-overs, ceremonial cannon -fire, heart-felt speeches. The Colorado Governor and two Generals shook my hand. There was not a dry eye among the hundreds in attendance when we received our folded flags. Some Irish whiskey was consumed.
Liam’s formal grave is in Ft Logan National Cemetery. We built a stone cairn in his honor at the forest edge on our Black Lake land. I visit him there often. I sometimes hear him chuckling somewhere nearby: “Hey, old man, how’s it hanging?”
Liam Nevins – Presente!