Fallen Father


Photo by Photo courtesy of Julie Derhak

Mariah’s father passed away at the age of thirty.

Julie Derhak, A&E Editor

Standing up every morning to recite the Pledge of Allegiance means having to exhaustedly grumble thirty-one words before the school’s announcements for some students. For senior Mariah Wilson, however, it is a way of showing respect to those who have worked to improve the country, including people like Mariah’s father who have lost their lives while fighting to protect the nation.

Compared to other major wars that the United States have fought in, the Iraq war (2009–2011) has resulted in a reasonably low American death toll, counted at 4,488. Mariah’s father being K.I.A (Killed In Action) is a rare case. In 2004, Donald Charles May Jr., Tank Commander and Staff Sergeant was on his way with three other soldiers to an area in Baghdad in a M1 Abrams tank called the Hermes.

At one point the Hermes had to cross a bridge, but the bridge didn’t support the weight. When the bridge collapsed, the Hermes flipped over and fell upside down into the Euphrates river. When the Hermes didn’t show up to the city on time, Commander May was pronounced M.I.A (Missing In Action). It wasn’t until the next day after the incident was he pronounced K.I.A. He was only thirty years old.

Mariah was only about ten years old when she found out about her father’s death through her mother.

“She told us slowly after a month,” said Mariah. “I didn’t understand why she was crying so much, but I knew she was very sad.” Mariah’s family went to many events that honored her father. Recognizing the valiant things he did and talking about him a lot helped her family adjust and cope.

Growing up with just a mother and moving around the Country became Mariah’s reality. It was hard for her to see other kids with their dads.

“You see other kids with their dad, and [there I was] like, ‘I only have a mom,” Mariah said.

To help with the grieving processes, T.A.P.S. (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and the Snowball Express were created to bring together families of the fallen soldiers. They are two programs in particular that Mariah and her family have been a part of for over eight years. The goal of T.A.P.S and Snowball Express is to make the families feel like they’re not alone. Meeting new friends and connecting with other kids who’ve been in similar situations as Mariah’s is her favorite part of the programs. She’s met people from all parts of the country and has gained the sense of community from them.

Mariah understands that her father did what he had to do, but she strongly dislikes the war in the Middle East. She knows that the soldiers do a lot for our country, but she disconnects herself from the details.

“I would just rather not have wars so we wouldn’t have to lose so many people, but I understand that they’re doing it to protect everyone else,” Mariah said.

A few months after her father passed away, Mariah and her family had to leave 29 Palms in California because they were on the military base and there was no one in the family anymore that was active in the military. The Wilsons then moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina; near a previous base that Mariah’s father had been stationed at. In 2011 Mariah’s family came to Utah, and after moving back to North Carolina temporarily, they decided to permanently stay in Utah since they liked it so much.

Mariah misses the humor and liveliness of her father the most. Everyday was a blast with him. He was what Mariah called a “modern day trickster of life.” He also enjoyed hunting which inspired Mariah to gain interest in the hunting trip she attended from the 24th – 27th of October. Mariah and her family went on the hunting trip in Texas which was sponsored by the Military Warriors Support Foundation.

The event taught the participants of gun safety and how to hunt and survive with a gun. Mariah herself killed a pig and a doe with a crossbow, a feat that she’s sure her father would be very proud of.