NORTH KINGSTOWN – Richard and Donna August were in Washington, D.C. when news of the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was blazoned on TV news.
“The crawl [printed text that flows across the bottom of the screen] said they got him,” recalled August who, with his wife, Donna, had traveled to the capital for their granddaughter’s First Communion.
Their son, Army Capt. Matthew J. August, was the first soldier from North Kingstown to die in the war in Iraq. He was killed by an improvised explosive device in January 2004. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he commanded Company B, 1st Engineer Battalion assigned to the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas.
News commentators, said August, who contributes an opinion column to The Standard-Times, “were using the word ‘closure.’ The death of Osama bin Laden doesn’t bring closure to anyone who has lost a loved one in 9/11 or the war on terrorism.
“The word ‘justice’ is also being used. It’s one way to look at it but to the families who really bore the brunt of this battle, it’s an event, a milestone; but the war on terrorism is not over.”
August is convinced there will be some form of retaliation after an American special operations team killed bin Laden in a firefight in Pakistan last Sunday. The leader’s death “won’t stop them,” he said. “It may set them back a little bit.”
He noted that USA Today summarized the state of the terrorist hierarchy: bin Laden dead; four of his eight key lieutenants killed and two captured; two remain at large.
“Bin Laden was just one part of the whole organization. Like killing the head of one New York mob family. The rest won’t call it quits.”
August said the administration of former President George W. Bush deserves credit for extensive information-gathering that made the raid on bin Laden’s compound possible. “The operation has taken a long time.”
He acknowledged President Obama’s courage in authorizing the action but added, “The reason we found bin Laden is because of work done before this administration came into office.”
August said civilians “can’t imagine the bravery it takes to go on a raid like this. It’s fortunate that we didn’t lose anyone. A lot of good things happened.”
Matthew August was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary and Service medals. During his career, he received the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal with two oak leaves, National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service and Overseas Service ribbons.
As August and his wife drove home from Washington, they stopped at West Point where their son is buried.
Richard August said losing his son is an ever-present pain, a wound that will not heal, even after seven years.
“He’s remembered every day, one way or another,” August said.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .