Sharing the sorrow
Jamie died four days before his father's birthday, and Mr. Wolf admits the grief is miserable on some days, particularly going through all the ``firsts''-Christmas and birthdays. He said the process has gotten easier as he and his wife are journeying on a step-by-step healing process.
``I tell people that the way we have gotten through the past 16 months is our faith in God, our family and our friends,'' Mr. Wolf said. ``Without them, we wouldn't have been able to get through it.''
Part of the healing process involved traveling to Fort Carson several times, he said, first for a memorial service prior to Jamie's funeral and another time for the dedication of Fort Carson's new dining facility, named after Jamie. The Wolfs met many military personnel and their families who had known and served with Jamie, all of whom told the Wolfs how much they loved and respected him.
``As a parent, you always want to hope that you've done a good job raising your kids,'' Mr. Wolf said. ``They don't come with an instruction manual. So when you find out that other people held him in high respect, that always makes you feel good.''
Another memorable visit to Fort Carson came three weeks after Jamie's death to meet President George W. Bush, who arrived at the base-which at that time had lost the most soldiers in Iraq-specifically to talk to grieving military families.
Mr. Wolf said that after the president's speech, attendees were gathered into smaller rooms, with six families to a room. He said his room was the first Mr. Bush visited, and he came alone with a Secret Service agent.
``He came in and told us, `I am humbled to be here. I want to tell you folks, I'm an emotional kind of guy. I'm going to try to get through this without any tears.' Well, he didn't make it past the first family,'' Mr. Wolf recalled.
``When he got ready to leave our room-and he was in our room for 45 minutes-Rachel our youngest daughter goes up to President Bush and says, `I know, Mr. President, that you're on a tight schedule, but can you sign this flag for me?' And he turned to her and said, `Young lady, let me tell you, I am here for as long as you folks need me. That plane, Air Force One, will fly at night. That's not a problem.' And he signed it.''
Mr. Wolf said he hadn't known what to expect, but meeting the president and other families who had lost sons, daughters, husbands and wives helped bring him and his family comfort. He said a woman he had met there on that day told him and his wife that they were part of a special club now-one that no one ever wants to be in, but once they are, they're never alone. They have found her words true.
Since Jamie's death, the Wolfs have received almost 700 cards and letters, many from people they didn't know but who had heard about Jamie. Those letters touched them more than condolences from the people who knew Jamie, Mr. Wolf said. He and his wife have since focused on giving back to their community, usually through speaking at schools about Jamie and the importance of family and community service.
The first time they spoke at a school, Mr. Wolf said it was hard for him emotionally. But it has gotten easier. He said that after Mrs. Wolf shares stories about Jamie and the many letters they have received, he usually finishes by telling their audience not to forget those who are defending our freedoms and how much they appreciate receiving letters as well.
The Wolfs also have joined Compassionate Friends, a support group for any parents who have lost children, as well as Gold Star Mothers of America, a national organization of mothers who have lost children while serving in the armed forces. Mrs. Wolf writes letters to families in Nebraska who have lost loved ones in Iraq, and she and her husband have befriended a family living 60 miles away from them whose son also was killed in Iraq last year.
``One thing Jamie would have wanted us to do is, he wouldn't have wanted us to stop functioning,'' Mr. Wolf noted. ``He would have wanted us to take his death and turn it into something positive. And so we've been involved in some of the things that are being done to help families.''
James Richard Wolf's headstone has an inscription that reads, ``The land of the free because of the brave.'' It's a saying he believed in, as does his family.
Mr. Wolf said the recent Iraqi election reminded him of a story Jamie told him about how his engineer group, together with Iraqis and Kurds, fought a sulfur mine fire for 30 days and prevented liquid sulfur from reaching the Tigris River. Mr. Wolf said Jamie would comment on the mass graves there, on how the Iraqi people have lived in fear all their lives and how much of the insurgency was caused by outsiders. He said Jamie believed he was doing the right thing over there.
Something else Mr. Wolf said he always remembers are words spoken by the master sergeant who brought Jamie's body home to his family. Mr. Wolf said he had asked the man if he had drawn the short straw to get assigned the job of funeral escort.
To his surprise, the master sergeant said he was one of 27 soldiers who had applied for the job. Mr. Wolf then recalled that he said, ``I don't know if it will help you now or not. It's not the amount of time you have in your life. It's the amount of life you put in the time that you're here. Your son put more life in those short 21 years than most people that I know who are 60.''
``He said that with tears running down his cheek,'' Mr. Wolf added. ``I've always kept that in my heart. It's not the amount of time that we're here on Earth; it's what we do with that time.''
On March 22, Mr. Wolf and his wife traveled together with friends, who had also lost a son, to Washington to pay tribute to the fallen at the dedication of the Portraits of the Fallen Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. They felt it was the least they could do.
``The men and women of our armed forces go wherever they're told to go; they put their lives on the line, and they do it for us,'' he told Tire Business. ``Because we live in a country that has the freedoms that we have, I think a lot of times we get complacent about it. I know I did.
``Even when Jamie was in Korea, it wasn't until he went to Iraq that it dawned on me that the freedoms we enjoy in the United States come with a price. There are some who pay the ultimate price for it.''