‘This Is My War'
Scott and Cindy Pyeatt were sitting in a southwest Ohio restaurant on the night of Feb. 4, 2011, when they realized something was wrong.
"We were trying to make small talk, and we just couldn't keep it up," Cindy told The Unknown Soldiers.
Their son, Cpl. Lucas Pyeatt, was on his very first combat patrol in Afghanistan. The Marine's mother could sense that her youngest son was in grave danger.
"I knew he'd been killed," she said.
The Pyeatts went home and made a futile attempt at getting a good night's sleep. Their plan was to wake up early in the morning and get out of the house as soon as possible.
"If I leave, nobody can knock on the door," the terrified military mom thought to herself.
Scott was up first on that Saturday morning, and after getting dressed, he went downstairs to nervously watch the sunrise while waiting for his wife.
"About the third or fourth time I went (to the door), it was getting light out, and I thought 'maybe we're good to go,'" he recounted. "I don't think I sat back on the couch for a minute before the doorbell rang."
As Scott walked to the door and Cindy came down the stairs, Luke's extraordinary life flashed before their eyes, appearing even brighter than the just-risen sun.
Cindy fondly remembers her husband, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who was stationed in England at the time of Luke's birth, showing his little boy the big fighter jets and quoting lines from "Top Gun."
"He was Maverick and Scott was Goose," she said. "They'd pretend they were flying the planes."
Young Luke was intellectually curious and intensely patriotic.
"You owe something to your country, and it is up to individuals to make a difference," his mother explained. "Very early on, it was ingrained in him."
He studied German and Russian, and in the run-up to his Afghanistan deployment, he began learning how to speak Pashto. Yet even while excelling academically, Luke yearned for an even bigger challenge. He wanted to be a Marine.
"He wanted us to sign in high school early, and I said no," Cindy explained.
Even though he was initially frustrated by his parents' efforts to protect him, Luke never lost sight of his ultimate goal.
"He wasn't trying to prove anything to anyone but himself," his dad said. "He said 'I want to do this, and I want to do it right.'"
Luke was contemplating college when a high school friend, Army Spc. Shawn Murphy, 24, was killed in Baghdad, Iraq, on Dec. 10, 2006. Soon after Cindy gave her son the devastating news, he told her he'd made a decision.
"I can't go to school, mom," Luke said. "This is my war, and this is my obligation."
Pyeatt brought the same selfless attitude to war-torn southern Afghanistan. He had been there only a few weeks when word got around that Marines were needed for a dangerous mission outside the wire of their base.
"This is my time," fellow 2nd Radio Battalion Marines quoted Luke as saying. "I'm going first since I'm the team leader."
Tragically, Cpl. Pyeatt's first combat mission would be his last. According to the Pentagon, the 24-year-old Marine was killed on Feb. 5, 2011, while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan's Helmand Province.
Luke's mom still wonders if they could have escaped the bad news by leaving their house before the military messenger arrived that morning. Still, the outpouring of love from their West Chester, Ohio, community, as well as their faith, comforts the Pyeatts.
"I was mad for a long time, but I don't feel angry anymore," the Gold Star mother said. "I know Luke isn't gone."
The night before my interview with the Marine's parents, Scott sat down to read a letter Cpl. Lucas Pyeatt wrote to his family, including his sister, Emily, in case the worst happened in Afghanistan. After reading his words, it became clear that one day, the family would be reunited.
"I was impressed because he said 'I can't wait to be together again, but there's no hurry," the Gold Star father said. "And that's Luke."
To find out more about Tom Sileo or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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