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September 10, 2011

Kansas remembers 9/11: The soldier's mom

The people featured in this package suffered personal loss from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, endured fallout from them, or worked in fields that evolved in a world changed by them. Their stories, shared with Eagle reporter Fred Mann, are presented here in their own words.

Ann Mock of Harper talks about her son, WillSun Mock, a 23-year-old Army sergeant who died in Baghdad on Oct. 22, 2006, during his second tour in Iraq.

"He was staying with his sister in Mulvane. They were laying on her bed watching TV when the towers fell. He was furious that we were being attacked. He swore right then to be a loyal part of any effort to retaliate on behalf of the U.S. and protect all the innocent, especially his family and friends.

"When he was in high school he had joined Junior ROTC on the advice of his history teacher, but after he graduated he couldn't pass the physical in the Marines because of his eyesight.

"After the attack, he said he was going to try harder and try the Army this time. His eyesight was a problem again. But the commander of the base near Kansas City came out and said, 'Send that red-headed farm boy in here.' I had to chuckle because he wasn't a farmer's son. He went in. The guy says, 'OK, tell me why you want to join the Army?' He told him, 'The Army really needs me.'

"Then he told him about his grandpa, who was the youngest son in his family who joined the Army in World War II. Will decided it was a tradition. He was the youngest son and needed to join. His older brothers were married and had kids. Also, when he had asked his grandpa why he joined, he'd said 'Somebody has to do it.' And that's what Will told people. 'Somebody has to do it. That somebody is me.' He also wanted to make his dad, a Vietnam veteran, proud.

"When I said, 'Why do you have to go?' he said, 'Mom, I would rather die over there for freedom than fight on our soil.'

"He was based in Germany. After he got settled, he called me and said, 'Mom, I volunteered to go to Iraq.' I said, 'You couldn't tell me face to face, could you?' He said, 'No, Ma'am.' After he hung up, I cried.

"The first time he was deployed to Iraq, he was in a bodyguard squad. Him and his company earned bronze medals. He re-enlisted while he was in Iraq. He said, 'I can't leave Iraq when the job's not done.'

"He ended up in the suburbs of Baghdad, a rough area that was controlled by insurgents. His company lost 14 men. A book about it is subtitled 'The hardest hit unit.' He was the second one killed. One of the IEDs went off near, or under, his Humvee. He and his Iraqi interpreter were killed and three other passengers were injured. One of the sad things that came out later, some of the Iraqi soldiers and police they were training by day were the ones putting the IEDs out at night.

"Will loved people. He was very polite. He treated people with respect, and people remembered him. A woman reporter who interviewed all the others in his company for the book said she never had a chance to meet Will, but every soldier from his company she interviewed said they were his best friend.

"It tore his men up when he died. They thought if anybody can survive, he would. He actually died on the operating table. He survived for two hours after he was hit.

"He had warned me, 'If you see two Army guys in regular fatigues coming to your door, I'm wounded, but alive. If they come in dress uniforms... '

"It was nice out that day so I had my screen door open. I saw them walk up. They were in dress uniforms. Time stopped. I didn't want to hear what they had to say. They notified me within four hours of his death.

"The first year, you're numb. You're trying to cope with the new reality of your life. The second year I found the hardest. You've thawed out and the reality is he's never coming back. He's really gone.

"One of my uncles lost a son. After 20 years I asked, 'How do you live with it?' He likened it to having an arm amputated. You learn to live with it, but you always know it's gone. That's how the rest of the years have gone for me.

"People either don't know what to say to you, or act like they're afraid to talk to you about your lost loved one. But that's what we want to do. We want to talk about them. We want to keep their memory alive. We want to know the life they sacrificed was not in vain.

"Now, I can go longer without crying. I can find happiness again without feeling guilty. I'm always aware he's gone, and at the oddest times it will pop up again. A memory, a sight, even a smell might bring something back and bring tears. The upside is, I know he's in a better place. No fighting, no injuries, no hurting. He's in Paradise, and I'm hoping he's keeping a place for me."

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