North Dakota Army National Guard Spc. Philip Brown died May 8, 2004 in Balad, Iraq from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device went off. The 21-year-old Jamestown, N.D. native was assigned to Company B, 141st Engineer Combat Battalion and was serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The day after Brown died, I was on duty as a reporter at a Fargo TV station.
“Let’s go – load up – we’re going to Jamestown. Call the family on the way,” a photographer spit out as he walked by my desk.
My stomach turned. I hated this part. Either they would swear, yell and hang up or they would welcome us with open arms, thankful to be able to tell their son’s story.
I spoke to Brown’s mother. She had a soothing voice and quietly said that his father, Richard, would visit with us on camera. He wanted to meet us at Jack Brown Stadium, the baseball field in Jamestown named for Spc. Brown’s grandfather, where the soldier grew up playing.
We set up in advance of Richard Brown’s arrival; we would interview him on the bleachers of the stadium.
A father full of grief approached us, wearing a baseball cap and a navy blue windbreaker. His eyes were red from the tears he had already shed. He shook our hands and thanked us for coming to tell Philip’s story.
We were close to speechless.
As reporters and photographers we are trained not to show emotion on the scene of a story. Not at crashes, not at funerals we cover and not when we interview parents who have lost children. Most of the time we cover our emotion until we are off the scene. But this day was different. The emotions were raw and we were right in the middle of it.
I held a microphone out and asked Richard Brown about his son.
With tears streaming down his face he described Phil as a hard worker, a happy go lucky kid. He even got in trouble in military training for smiling too much.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the photographer walk away from his camera, something I’d never seen him do before. He let the tape roll. That was my permission to let go.
Quietly tears streamed down my face. We cried together that sunny May day, sitting on the stadium bleachers, talking about Spc. Brown, a fourth generation soldier.
“He just knew it was something I guess he needed to do. Sometimes you just have to take your turn. He took his turn and in war, some times, bad things can happen,” Richard Brown told me that day.
Later we went to the family home. Small American flags covered the lawn. Red, white and blue candles flickered in the breeze.
“He’s brave. He did a great thing for our country,” Greg Brown said about his older brother.
This memorial day, think of all who gave their lives.
And if you need a specific name, remember Spc. Philip Brown.