Kansas City Star
August 12, 2011

Young Son Of Slain Chinook Pilot: Don’t Forget My Dad

By Lee Hill Kavanaugh, The Kansas City Star

Braydon Nichols was playing a video game Saturday night when his mom called him downstairs.

She tried to summon her courage for her boy.

“You know how proud of your dad we are, right? And, you know your dad is a hero…” Jessica Nichols remembers saying to her 10-year-old son.

She looked at his face. So young, so much like her ex-husband when she first met him in the sixth grade. Braydon’s eyes were confused at first. Then they pooled with tears.

He went limp in her arms as she whispered the words he didn’t want to hear.

“… We lost your dad today.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Nichols was among the 30 Americans killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. Three others with local ties also died: door gunner Spencer Duncan of Olathe, flight engineer Alex Bennett of Overland Park and Navy SEAL Matt Mason, who grew up in Kearney.

It was the single largest loss of life for Americans in the 10 years of the war.

Mother and son held each other, crying, talking long into the night about war and hate, heroes and death, heaven and angels, before finally falling asleep on the couch. There had been no knock on the door or uniformed officers. That would come later.

Sunday morning, they turned on the television. Maybe they could learn more about what happened so far away, two months into Bryan’s third deployment.

The television blared with the news of the deadly attack. Already, some photos of Navy SEALs Team 6 appeared. Along with words like elite. And highly trained … Loss for America.

Braydon kept watching. Kept waiting to see his father’s familiar grin.

But there was no mention of Bryan Nichols, the 31-year-old Kansas City Army reservist who piloted the Chinook. And that made Braydon sad.

He asked his mom if they could email CNN.

Mother and son crowded before the computer, searching for a way to do that. They found iREPORT, a site set up by CNN, that lets people post their own stories and photos. It’s not edited or fact-checked or screened. But it’s there.

Braydon asked his mom to type the words and send the photo of his dad, the one where he’s sitting with three other Army reservists. He likes that photo.

The message: Don’t forget my dad.

Within hours, the photo and his message soared through cyberspace — through blogs and Facebook accounts and tweets.

It reached Bryan’s unit, the men and women of Company B, 7/158th, who were grieving in Afghanistan. They passed the message to each other.

Some were in forward operating base Salerno in Afghanistan. Some were in a base called Shank, Bryan’s base. Some were at Bagram Airfield.

They passed it to their wives and girlfriends, mothers and fathers. They passed it to other soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait, to soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas. And to Bryan’s friends in Hays, Kan. — his hometown — and in Kansas City.

In hours, more than 20,000 responses filled up seven pages at the site. After CNN wrote a story, more than 30 pages were added.

Words of encouragement. Words of hope. Words remembering Braydon’s dad.

“Mission accomplished,” wrote one member of the 7/158th, when he passed the message forward.

Monday morning at 11 a.m., two Army uniformed officers came to Braydon and Jessica Nichols’ home in the Northland. Jessica and Bryan divorced in 2004. But they stayed friends because they were Braydon’s mom and dad. Bryan remarried.

Next week, Braydon starts the fifth grade at Nashua Elementary. A new school, with new friends. And moments when his friends will ask about his dad.

Braydon already knows what he’ll say.

“My dad was a pilot…

“My dad is a hero.”

And his eyes pooled with tears once more.

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About Commander in Chief At home

Erin is a military spouse and, sometimes temporarily single mom to 4 boys. She's a parenting coach, writer, teacher, special needs (Autism) mom, and much more.
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