"The grief never goes away": Gold Star families and combat survivors open up about loss after 9/11

Last Updated Sep 11, 2019 7:40 PM EDT

More than 2,400 Americans have given their lives since the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan — that’s nearly the number that died on . “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell sat down for an emotional interview with some relatives of the fallen and with combat survivors of the Battle of Wanat in 2008.

For Jessica Hovater Davis, Carlene Cross and David Brostrom, 9/11 was a turning point, one that would send their sons to a remote and dangerous battlefield.

“9/11 was the reason why Jason decided he would go into the military,” Davis said.

“I remember him talking to me about wanting to go and you know, fight terror,” Cross said.

“My son gave his life over there. Probably be alive today if it hadn’t been for 9/11,” Brostrom said.

Making sacrifices for others

Today, these Gold Star families are forever linked together because of one of the deadliest battles of the Afghanistan War: The Battle of Wanat. Nine American paratroopers from Chosen Company’s 173rd Brigade died that day and 27 were wounded, after they were ambushed by 200 Taliban fighters, just 11 days before coming home.
 
Davis lost her younger brother, Army Corporal Jason Hovater. Cross lost her only son, Army Corporal Jason Bogar. Brostrom lost his eldest child, 1st Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom.
 
“I don’t like wearing this Gold Star. I wear it with pride but I don’t like it,” Brostrom said.
 
Frankie Gay lost his 22-year-old son, Army Corporal Pruitt Rainey. He said the survivors are like family.
 
“When I hear these other soldiers tell their stories of what my son did, how he sacrificed his life for his brothers, it makes me more proud than I’ve ever been in my life,” Gay said.

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“I will never forget”

Survivors of the battle, like platoon Sergeant David Dzwik and Gunner William Krupa, knew the dangers, and so did the men they were fighting with. The phone calls home became increasingly frightening.
 
“He said, ‘I gotta go.’ But I could still hear everything. There was a lot of gunshots. I just dropped to my knees and I just said, ‘God please don’t let this be the time,'” Davis said.

“They had the high ground, they had the numbers, they had surprise,” Dzwik said.

“There’s very few things that day that I remember clearly. But watching Specialist Abad take his last breaths in the foxhole next to me, those are definitely images that I will never forget,” Krupa said.

“That’s pure love”

In the heat of the battle, there was heroism. Brostrom’s son and Davis’ brother ran into enemy fire to help their fellow soldiers. Cross and Gay’s sons died trying to save them.

“They went down there unarmed to engage the enemy with their bare hands. That’s pure love, when you do something like that,” Brostrom said.

Cross said that was hard to hear. “They must have known that it was just gonna be a bloodbath,” she said.

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Looking for closure

Eleven years after that battle in Afghanistan, some of these families want closure. “We have just sacrificed so much. I don’t want anybody going forward, to go through what we went through,” Gay said. 

The sacrifice these soldiers made is their enduring legacy.

“There’s a scripture in the Bible that we have just really clung to. And it is, ‘Greater love has no man than this. That he laid down his life for another.’ And that’s what they did for each other,” Davis said.

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