An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Still honored, never forgotten

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jamie Humphries
  • Still honored, never forgotten
Everyone deals with death differently.

There's no manual or technical order on how you should react or feel or the exact manner in which you should privately grieve.

You aren't born with a natural human instinct that allows you to deal with your emotions when a loved one or friend suddenly passes. You simply deal with death.

It was more than seven years ago that Lt. Col. William R. Watkins III and Capt. Eric B. Das were killed while engaging enemy positions near Tikrit, Iraq in an F-15E Strike Eagle.

Both men were assigned to the 333rd Fighter Squadron from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., both were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and both were deployed with their wives Capt. Nikki Das and Maj. Melissa Watkins.

Both men were later laid to rest in a joint burial in a single casket, in a single grave in America's most hallowed ground for war heroes -- Arlington Cemetery. Watkins, of Danville, Va., was a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy while Das, of Amarillo, Texas, was a 1995 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Both men died doing what they loved to do in service to our nation while asking nothing in return; but I'm sure that doesn't make it any easier. I don't know for sure but I'm guessing there's still plenty of confusion and agony and those feelings simply don't go away, especially for little William Tucker and Mary Allison Watkins.

On occasion, I think about those men, and wonder if their families are OK. I wonder how they're coping with the loss of their heroes.

I think back to the day I facilitated a book interview between Nikki Das and an author who specialized in the F-15E. I sat in the room listening to her story and remember thinking to myself
how strong a woman I have before me, talking about the day she lost the love of her life. The amazing thing, as I recall, was Nikki Das didn't shed one tear during the entire interview. I think she was simply out of tears. I sure hope she's doing alright today.

About three years ago, I took my family to Section 60 and visited the grave site of Watkins and Das. Arlington is a surreal place, especially around Veteran's Day. With rolling hills and neatly trimmed hedges, you can almost feel yourself in the center of every American conflict from the Civil War to Operation Enduring Freedom. It's a quiet place, one for reflection and thought but not for the faint of heart.

On any given day, you will find family members huddled around the gravesites of their fallen family members and friends. This is how they deal with death.

On this Veteran's Day, I'd ask that you take a moment and reflect on our service veterans of past and present. Remember their service and sacrifice and love of country and patriotism. These are America's true heroes and remembering them on this holiday is the least we can do for them.