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Sgt. James Graham
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Broken Arrow Oklahoma
Before we begin, let’s introduce ourself to the real hero of this story.
Marine Sgt. James R. Graham III
25, of Coweta, Okla.; assigned to 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, Broken Arrow, Okla.; attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward); killed Aug. 1 as a result of a suicide bombing while conducting combat operations near Hit, Iraq.
Oklahoma Marine killed in Iraq suicide bombing
TULSA, Okla. — A 25-year-old Marine from Coweta was killed in a suicide car bombing near Hit, Iraq, about 85 miles northwest of Baghdad, the Department of Defense confirmed on Tuesday.
Sgt. James R. Graham III was assigned to the Marine Reserve Unit in Broken Arrow, an anti-tank company.
The military said Graham was “conducting combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom” when the bomber struck on Monday.
The anti-tank unit from suburban Tulsa was scheduled to return from its tour of duty in about one month, Tulsa television station KOTV reported Tuesday.
Graham is survived by a wife and two small children.
Graham had received three medals for his time served in Iraq, including the Good Conduct Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal and the Selective Marine Corps Reserve medal, said Christopher Logan, media officer for the Marine Forces Reserve. Graham will receive more honors as well, including a Purple Heart, Logan said.
Betty Willhoite, a next-door neighbor, said she has fond memories of Graham playing with his boys.
“He would always be out there showing the oldest how to kick a soccer ball into the net,” Willhoite said. “He was a nice man. He worked very hard and was such a good person. I just hate to see this happen to such a nice, young family. He felt like it was his duty.”
Willhoite said she heard the news Monday from Graham’s wife, who was out in the yard. Willhoite said she asked the family pastor to add them to a church prayer list.
“He was very gentle and a great father, a little on the quiet side,” Willhoite said. “I’ve never heard him raise his voice.”
Back on the 4th of August, a fellow rider on the Iron Indians forum posted something so completely whacked, it almost seemed surreal. It was a story of a church in Topeka, KS that has decided to use fallen soldier’s funerals as their staging area to spread their hate and filth filled messages. Messages primarily aimed at gays, liberal churches, etc.
I rarely become too angry to control my feelings but this seemed to touch a nerve deep down. Being angry with the United States involvement in Iraq is one thing. To voice those opinions at a funeral service for a fallen soldier is completely another. When death occurs, all chips are off of the table.
Typical bravado ensued with the usual “I will beat the crap outta them if they come to my neighborhood” or “One minute alone with them and they will be begging for mercy” etc.
Then, a week later, another poster on the getawaysaver forum for Branson posted that there would be another protest led by these goofballs in 2 days.
WHAT?!?! I thought “You have GOT to be kidding me!!! They are going to do this AGAIN?!?!”
Sure enough, the Westborough Baptist Church posted on their website that they would be at Sgt. Graham’s funeral spreading their filth along with the time and location. (I refuse to link to their website to give them any addtional exposure through the search engines. If you want to know more about them, look them up on the search engines. Or just type asshole. Either one will surely bring them up first.)
It took me less than 60 seconds to look over our schedule for the weekend and to make the decision to be there. I knew that there would be several riders from the Iron Indians going along with me and one person from the getawaysaver group as well. Outside of that, I was clueless.
Going back to the bravado, I knew there was little to nothing that we could accomplish being there. You cannot just beat the hell out of someone no matter how much they deserve it and how badly you would like to do it. You can only hope to counter their message with a positive. Still, I hoped to see what could be done in the future. i.e. size them up and then come up with a plan. Several of which I will suggest at the end.
Almost immediately after I posted I would be heading to Oklahoma, my phone rang and it was Paul Greenwood telling me that he would be coming up from Texas to show support for this family as well. I don’t know what it was, but hearing Paul tell me that just made my heart swell. I went from dreading this trip to anticipating it. Friends against foes and now it was all good.
Several more Iron Indians called or wrote and the next thing you knew we had a gathering. To the family of Sgt. Graham, we wanted to be there for you. To let you know you are loved and supported.
Friday night, I fired up baby and it was off to Oklahoma. Pulling into Broken Arrow, I distinctly remember the thought that there was a young man in a coffin very nearby who was about to be laid to rest and it touched my heart. Even now as I write this, it still does.
We all met up at the La Quinta in Broken Arrow. Bob and his wife Linda from Paola KS. Ed Corbett from Olathe. Bill and Paul from Tyler, TX and yours truly from po dunk Branson. Feeling good about our brotherhood but not sure what we could “do” to counter the protesters. In the end, we decided to play the hand we were dealt and see where it goes to from there.
Saturday morning we met up with the lead. A gentleman by the name of Brett who would take us over to the church and basically went over the informal rules of the day. Things we already knew, but to confirm to himself we were clear. i.e. pipes low or off, no swearing at the protesters (it is still a church after all) no fistfights, etc. Like I said, we all knew this but it was a tense time for all involved and Brett probably felt a lot better knowing that we were there to support them through and through. In total, we had a nice showing of 10 in all. Or so we thought.
We left out at 9:30 for the church following Brett in the lead not knowing what we would encounter but without a care all the same.
51st street in Broken Arrow is a big street with wide open lanes that allows you to see for better than a mile ahead. As we went, I could see the lights from police cars far down the road. “Either there has been a terrible wreck or this is for Sgt. Graham” I thought. As we got closer, it became apparent this was for Sgt. Graham and sure enough the knuckleheads were there. As I passed by, I greeted them with a good morning wave and a one finger salute. I think they greeted me back.
But, it was beautiful. Just beautiful. Flags everywhere, people lining the streets north and south as well to the west. Flags EVERYWHERE. And where we once naievely believed we were the only riders to come and stand with the family we found 10 times more already there! Vets, tried and true, proudly wearing their colors to honor a fallen brother.
When the Honor Guard passed by there was spontaneous applause throughout the crowd with people whistling and cheering the servicemen and women. The crowd wanted to impress upon them that they were supported and loved. True to form, the goons equally screamed out their obscenities to the kids which only seemed to incite the crowd. Truthfully, this is the point where I began to wonder if chaos and mayhem were about to ensue. You could feel the wrath beginning to get hot.
Then, almost on cue, one of the goons began to do this queer cheer. (Sorry, I don’t know how else to describe it other than that) He danced around like a princess and was chanting “The grass is on fire, the grass is on fire…..” followed by some other nonsense.
And then it all came home. While taking pictures, Ed nudged me and said “You should be taking her picture” and I glanced over to catch a glimpse of a young lady from the family’s funeral. She stood next to one of the other bikers and I could hear her weeping and asking “Why are they doing this?”
I did take several photos of her but only decided to post this one. It would serve no purpose to show her grief even more than it already was. Afterwards, I walked over and offered my condolences to her and my apologies for “all of this” and she hugged me saying the family deeply appreciated all of us there to support them. She did the same for several others there and it made it all the more worthwhile. Something to show this family, these beautiful grieving families that they are not alone. That these vile, wretched, pieces for filth will never be nothing more than low life cowards and that they will be met headon in the future.
To this end, someone came up with a beautiful idea and it worked. Two of the other riders and one Iron Indian took their bikes across the street and lit em up. They were just as legal as the other creatins they were drowning out. Not only are they a joy to ride, but they make some beautiful NOISE as well. For an improvised immediate solution, it worked. Sadly, it came within only minutes of these vile idiots being escorted out of town by the police.
Summation- Coming away from this, I was a bit empty. You want to do something, anything to offer these morons a proper greeting. A”Welcome to Oklahoma from a Missourian” kind of greeting. And from what I understand, that is what they want. They want violence followed with a nice legal lawsuit for assault.
But, there are things that could have been done to inhibit their “Freedom of Speech” and here are a few of my thoughts.
#1. They were on a public sidewalk which positioned them WAY too close to the church. Next time, get there early and take all the “prime” spots. Additionally, they are choosing public sidewalks. Fine, the grass that grows next to the sidewalk belongs to the church. Jam both sides of the sidewalks with flags, or scarecrows, or crosses for crying out loud. Hell, let the grass grow and let them deal with chiggers, gnats and ticks!!!!
#2. They are given WAY too much visibility. A couple of blank sheets, large flag, etc. Held up to block them out would have done wonders.
#3. The idea with the bikes was excellent and it could be used again in the future. Kicker is, you do not want to disturb the family inside and create additional grief in an already complex and difficult situation.
#4. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with the police. I know they have a job to do and laws to enforce. No problem. On the flipside, I do not think they should have allowed these goofballs such a prime location either. Hopefully, future police actions will put them on the side of a highway somewhere. Let em protest to the crickets. (The picture is to show how close they were allowed to stand to the church)
#5. And finally, I was disappointed with the church that held the services. They knew this was coming and yet did nothing. They had been briefed and could have take SOME kind of measure to inhibit their “Freedom of Speech”. It is their church for crying out loud. Even if it meant letting some food rot and spoil to fertilize the ground (don’t dogs also make good fertilizer?) to having an automatic sprinkler kick on, they could have done SOMETHING!
Overall, it was an interesting experience. One I am sure I will never forget. I am quite angry right now and think it is a damned shame that people like this have been given a soapbox to stand on to spew their filth. All from the pain and sacrifice offered by founding fathers who could have never envisioned something like this.
To the folks who stood to defend and pay tribute, thank you. It was honorable to share time with you. And to the idiots of WBC, may you finally overstep your bounds and meet the wrath of a just and angry mob.