Sgt. José Pequeño / Age 34 / Sugar Hill, New Hampshire

José was the youngest police chief in the state of New Hampshire, forever. But then he was in the National Guard, and they asked for volunteers. It was on March 1, 2006. They were guarding an Iraqi police station and got a tip it was going to be hit. One of the bombers’ cars hit the police station, blew it up, and my son was calling in to base when they threw a grenade through the open part of the Humvee. The driver died instantly. When they found José, the lower part of his body was still inside the Humvee but the explosion had gone under his helmet and the left part of his brain was out in the sand.

I used to work nights. I got home at 7 am, couldn’t sleep, when there was a phone call. “We need to notify you that your son had an accident and is in surgery.” But they couldn’t give me any news how bad he was. I hung up, called my daughter and his dad, then kept calling Casualty Affairs every fifteen minutes. “As soon as we know, ma’am.” Then, “They’re flying him into Germany.” Finally, when he got to Germany, they told me it was an injury on the head. “How bad is it?” “He’s getting cleaned up, but we don’t know the extent of the injury.” I finally got to a nurse. “You tell me.” “I’ll have a neurosurgeon call.” Two o’clock in the morning, I got a call from the neurosurgeon. “I’m still evaluating your son. I’ll call you when I’m done.” “How long?” “I’ve got like twenty minutes to go.” And I said, “You’ve got twenty-two minutes. I’m his mom, for God’s sake.”

Twenty-five minutes later I got a call. A voice said, “Is this your son?” “Yes.” “Such a beautiful son,” he said. “What a terrible waste, a young man with such a life ahead of him, and he’s going to die.” Right there, a piece of me just left. “You’re such a liar!” I yelled. “Of course my son is going to make it.” After that, I asked, “Are you finished with your evaluation? Tell me exactly what’s wrong with my son. Please.” And he said, “He has a severe brain injury, severe bleeding; he’s lost the bottom two lobes of his brain.” And at that time, my daughter’s boyfriend heard me scream and fall off the bed. I started throwing things. My next-door neighbor came running, and I sat down and cried and said, “I can’t do this.”
Nelida Bagley