Photo: JASON PAUTSCH was the last Iowan to die in Iraq. His family has had some help in coping with their loss from the state of Iowa, which honors its soldiers in a variety of ways. (DAVID PAUTSCH | courtesy)
When Army Cpl. Jason Pautsch’s funeral procession went down the streets of Davenport, Iowa, and then to Rock Island, Ill., Quad Cities residents lined up for three and a half miles to pay tribute to a fallen soldier.
David Pautsch, Jason’s father, said he saw police officers saluting, mothers crying and children staring solemnly.
There was silence—the only sound was the snapping of the flag in the wind, he said. Jason was a hero to these people, despite having never met many of them.
Jason Pautsch was killed in April in a suicide bombing near the Iraqi Police Academy in Mosul.
He and four other soldiers were sitting in their vehicles when a suicide bomber driving a dump truck detonated 20,000 pounds of explosives. All five soldiers were killed instantly. Jason was 20 years old.
Jason had been in Iraq for seven months before he was killed.
As his body was taken off the plane at Dover Air Force Base—in a casket with a perfectly placed American flag draped over—David Pautsch said that the moment was sobering.
“It hit as a reality that he was gone,” David said in a telephone interview. “I still haven’t embraced the reality. You’re in denial about it.”
Two three-star generals spoke to the families. The Army, he said, was supportive in this troubling time.
“It was a sad occasion to realize your son was gone,” David said.
While the rest of his senior class was preparing for prom, Jason graduated from high school early in December 2006 and joined the Army.
“He believed in our country,” David said. “He believed in what he was doing over there. He liked adventure.”
The side of Jason his father said that brought it all together was his spiritual side. In eighth grade, he was in a BMX bike accident that injured his liver. While in the hospital, he and his father had a conversation that changed Jason life.
“I told him, ‘You act like you’re afraid to die,’” David said. “And he said, ‘Well, sort of.’ And so I told him, ‘Why don’t we say a little prayer.’ So we did.”
After they found out he didn’t need surgery, he quit hanging out with the wrong crowd, got a job and started praying.
“So, he went into the Army with a certain resolve that he was doing the right thing and that he was led to do it,” David said.
‘It was worth it’
In a moment of despair and hopelessness last summer, David had a dream.
“In the dream, my 15-year-old daughter and I met Jason in some restaurant, and my daughter said to Jason, ‘Why did you have to die?’” David said. “And Jason said—and he was wearing his combat uniform—he says, ‘It was worth it.’ He didn’t say why, he just said, ‘It was worth it.’”
David said that his dream has comforted him in the last few months. The Quad Cities community has also been an inspiration, he said. Jason was buried in Rock Island National Cemetery.
At his funeral, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn spoke. David said his son had a funeral fit for a president.
“He had a funeral that was so incredibly honoring,” David said.
Jason is the last Iowan to perish in Iraq.
On Dec. 1, President Barack Obama spoke to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he outlined his plan to deploy 30,000 more troops. With this announcement comes fear—fear of strategy, fear of public support, but most importantly, fear of death. For those families of the soldiers who will be deployed, and families of current-serving soldiers, concern arises of what will happen when they receive the terrible news from the armed forces that their loved one was killed in action.
According to icasualties.org, a site that gathers its information primarily through the U.S. Department of Defense, 47 Iowans have been killed in Iraq and seven in Afghanistan.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Nathan Banks said the Army provides grief counseling to the families of deceased soldiers. He said that these are voluntary and are done through both Army and civilian psychologists.
“It’s a program for them to reach out and have a certain certified counselor in which to talk about the problems and issues that they are going through,” Banks said.
Local Veterans Affairs offices, Banks said, offer these grief-counseling programs to assist the families. However, he said, organizations such as Gold Star Mothers are more effective in assisting the families.
Gold Star Mothers is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that provides services to mothers who have children who perished in the line of duty. Members provide emotional support and also volunteer at local VA hospitals.
Ruth Stonesifer, national president of Gold Star Mothers, said that although it can take parents a while to find the organization after they’ve lost their son or daughter, there is an instant bond once they do.
“Some meet and just go to lunch, but others are very active in doing fundraising and help to establish a Fisher House,” she said.
The Fisher House Foundation provides support to soldiers and their families, specifically temporary housing for families of soldiers who need specialized medical care.
There is no Gold Star Mothers chapter in Iowa. Stonesifer said that there are enough members to form a chapter, but they do not meet regularly. She said that Iowa currently has three mothers involved in the organization.
Her son, Kristofor, was the second American soldier killed in Afghanistan. After his death, she met with three Vietnam War mothers involved in the organization who shared their journeys after losing their sons.
Stonesifer made quilts for the wounded soldiers in Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“That was a project I was able to take on and proceed with,” she said. “But being with the other moms and working on the national board and traveling all over the country to meet with them and find out what all their projects were all about, it gives you great inspiration on what you can do.”
What does Iowa do for fallen soldiers?
- A PROCLAMATION
A gubernatorial proclamation in honor of the fallen soldier is presented to thesoldier’s spouse orparents.
- A LETTER
The governor and Lt. governor write a letter of sympathy and honor to the soldier’s parents and spouse (when applicable).
- THE CALL
The governor calls the family of the soldier, if it is determined that the family would welcome such a call.
- A FLAG
The governor orders the flags lowered on the day of the soldier’s funeral; a press release is issued.
A photograph of the soldier is added to the display in the state capitol of photos of Iowa soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.