After Jake died, it didn’t take me long to figure out that serving others calms the grief more than anything. I wish I could tell all Gold Star family members to give it a try! For me, it’s the answer, and I know it makes Jake smile, as he cared so much for the people around him his entire life.

As I’ve said before, I’ve had a need to be in contact with Jake’s brothers who were with him on the helicopter as they recovered, and also the others who were in the shadow bird; first responding to the wounded and then caring for and transporting Jake. It’s always a good day when I’m privileged to have a conversation or a quick text with any of them. I know Jake lives on in them and I feel a strong connection to my boy through them.

I had a passionate desire to connect with the families of the two other casualties from Jake’s unit. They died together as a result of an IED about 6 weeks after Jake’s death and with the news of it, my heart re-broke. I have met one set of parents of the soldier from Nebraska, and I fly out Thursday to meet the other in California! I am so grateful for the opportunity to love them and help them feel less alone.

I spent some time with Jake’s recruiter last month, and had the opportunity to assure him that nobody is responsible for Jake’s death, and certainly not him.

Last night, I finally made my last contact that has weighed so heavy on my mind since Jake’s death. I finally tracked down the email for the commander of the pilots and sent him this letter:

Dear Colonel XXX,

I am the Gold Star Mother of PFC Jacob H Wykstra who was killed on May 28th of this year in Maruf, Afghanistan. He was the only casualty resulting from a Black Hawk crash. I have worked to find contact information for the pilots who were flying the helicopter that night, but my long-time friend, Colonel Andrew XXX thought it best that I first communicate to them through you, their commander.

The pilots flying that night were CW2 Adam XXX and CW2 Josh XXX. I have prayed for them for 6 months now and I hope they are recovering and doing well. I feel a need to contact them because I cannot bear the thought of anyone believing they are responsible for my son’s death. I don’t know this to be the case, but I can only imagine the load they bare.

My family and I realize that war zones can be chaotic and that accidents happen. Jake also knew the risks that come with being a member of the infantry. Jake had a gift. He was always an extremely forgiving and loving person, and he would not want his death to affect anyone in a negative way. What we would like to see, and I feel confident in speaking for my son, is healing and the ability to move forward in a positive way to live good lives for ourselves and for Jake. I know none of us affected by this tragedy will ever forget, and we should not, but I pray that we will be able to accept that Jake’s time was up, the Lord took him mercifully, he has a job to do elsewhere and that we will all see him again.

If I could make this situation better for anyone I would do it, but there is nothing I can do except hope and pray that my words might give comfort to these pilots. My son died for a cause he believed in; freedom for all people around the world, and I am grateful that I raised a son willing to die for that cause. I know he died well in the eyes of God and I don’t worry about him. I do worry about those who are still living and struggling.

I am so proud of Jake and his commitment to serving others, and I am grateful for the pilots and for all of you who serve our nation, as well as  other nations that rely on assistance from our armed forces. I could never express my gratitude enough.

Please respond to let me know you received this letter and please pass it on. I hope the pilots will take a moment to respond, and I pray that I might bring them some peace.

I was surprised to receive such a quick and wonderful response:

Ms. Katzenbach, 

     I too have prayed for many months concerning the crash that took Jake’s life.  I have of course prayed often for the physical healing of all those injured in the crash and even more fervently for Jake’s soul and some manner of peace and comfort for your family.  I did not know from what you drew strength in such times but from your email, I have inferred a number of things.  I believe now we share a faith in the Lord and I note your comment about us living His plan.  I have never been tested with such a tragic loss as yours and truly hope when I am tested that I can be as strong in faith and character as you seem to be.  Your concern for others – whom you’ve never met – and initiative to bring them comfort is humbling.

      You are perceptive also to suspect there may be folks in our formation who feel some responsibility for the suffering and loss.  I know how I feel and I saw some of the crews’ emotion when they learned of Jake’s death.  Our Army Profession is based on trust in all things and our unit speaks much about always protecting the sacred bond with our customers (that’s usually the Infantry).  So, as professionals, any aviation event that results in injury or loss prompts us into a lot of self-examination and what-ifs.  Too much of this is likely unhealthy and could prevent the emotional peace you spoke of in your email and that you wish for Josh and Adam.  We will continue to monitor how the aircrew and others are doing emotionally.  I will share your email with these folks and I’ll help them determine the best next step.  I think they will find your strength as inspiring as I do.

      I think of your son often, especially in the last few weeks as we have just recently returned home and now have time to reflect on the deployment.  Reflection sparked by ceremonies, senior leader visits, and other events that often cause us to think through our best days and our worst days of the deployment.  The day of Jake’s death was certainly our worst – but even that day had me offer a prayer of thanks as there could have been so many other lives lost.  I hope that makes some kind of sense.

      I am grateful for you reaching out to me and for your concern about our folks.  I intended to write you after we had been home for a bit – I like to think I would have followed through.  However, your email has forced me to action now and I am grateful for that too.  I owe you some feedback about the aircrew.  Much of the force started post deployment leave this week and we’re spread all around but I will get your words to them in very short order.

God Bless,

Colonel XXX

I have felt a weight on my shoulder for six months, and today I feel as though I have accomplished my goal; to bring a little peace and comfort to others affected by Jake’s death. It has taken awhile, as the Army is not willing to give out private information, but my words have been heard by those I wanted so badly to comfort.

 

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