Remembering a soldier who gave his life for others
Five years ago, on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq, someone placed an improvised explosive device. This particular type of IED was infamous for its destructive capability, and it was placed in the morning at a busy intersection near an overpass. The bomb was located at a spot with the intention of indiscriminately killing and inflicting injury upon as many innocent non-combatants as possible.
But this bomb had a dual purpose. The people that placed the IED at that particular intersection knew that if anyone would come to protect the innocent victims of its intended purpose, it would be the Americans. And they were right, the Americans did come.
Among them was a bright-eyed, fun-loving and compassionate 21-year-old young man , Pfc. Phillip “Brandon” Williams. Brandon grew up wading on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Like many Tahoe natives, he started kindergarten at Sierra House Elementary School. Later he moved to the Carson Valley and played little league at Lampe and Aspen Parks. By 9 years old he was playing guitar, and as a teenager he worked at Radio Shack and graduated from Douglas High School. Shortly thereafter, he joined the U.S. Army.
Although he qualified for other assignments, Brandon chose to follow family tradition, and become a combat military policeman. His father and uncle were South Lake Tahoe Police sergeants. Another uncle was a correctional officer for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. His grandfather was a retired CHP Officer. His grandmother was a retired sheriff’s dispatcher. His great-grandfather served in the Army under Gen. Patton in World War II, and his great-great grandfather was an Army veteran of World War I.
Recognizing the danger of the position, Brandon’s father tried to talk him into taking another assignment. Brandon won the argument, with “Dad, I’ve grown up watching you go to work in Tahoe, protecting people you don’t even know. That’s what I want to do for the people over there.” That statement summed up the type of soldier Brandon became. He wanted to protect the innocent, and was willing to fight to do so.
Brandon was service-oriented and compassionate. He turned 21 on May 29, 2006, while deployed in Iraq. Many young men celebrate that birthday with parties and drinking. Not so with Brandon. There was no alcohol allowed, but his unit, the 506th, had finally been granted a day off after serving on repeated missions. As luck would have it, country music singer, Toby Keith, had come to give a concert for the troops on that very day. They were all going to the concert when word came that soldiers were stranded in the red zone.
Volunteers were needed for a rescue mission. In true “Band of Brothers” fashion, Brandon and his unit were the ones to volunteer. Brandon later told his dad he was disappointed at missing the concert, but said that the sacrifice was worth it because the mission was a success, and everyone in both units made it back safely.
It was with that kind of a heart and dedication that Brandon responded with his unit to that intersection in Iraq on Oct. 9, 2006. But the IED was more than an explosive device, it was an ambush. At 10:05 a.m., Iraqi time, Brandon was shot and killed by an enemy sniper while protecting the innocent. At 21 years old Brandon became the first resident of the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe area to be killed in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It is hard to believe five years have passed since that day. It may seem like a long time to some, but the pain still feels very fresh and real to his friends and family members. This Veterans Day, Friday, 11-11-11, HLN Nancy Grace will include Brandon in a tribute on her television show.
On Veterans Day the Williams family encourages all of us to remember Pfc. Brandon Williams, Sgt. Timothy Smith and Spc. Garret Fant, from our local area, as well as all Americans who have so valiantly given the ultimate sacrifice, or are currently standing in harm’s way to gain and protect this precious gift we call freedom. These young soldiers all represent great local sacrifices for a national and global cause.
Brad Williams is Brandon Williams’ father.