Army SPC Kale Daren Clay-23 born March 3, 1986 to Feb 13, 2010
Kale entered the Army 9-25-07, where he completed Basic Training at Ft. Jackson SC, and did his Advanced Training at Ft. Sill. He was a 13B Canon Crew Member of A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillary and stationed to Ft. Carson. In 2008/09 he served in Iraq, at CSC Scania in the Babel Province as the number one man on the Paladian Howitzer for his commander’s security.
"I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be". How many times had I read that book to him as a little boy?
I was reading it to him again, it would be the last. His body lie in the funeral home, cold and lifeless. My son's body, dressed in his class A's. The first time I saw him in his uniform was on family day on his graduation from Basic training at Ft. Jackson. He was so excited, showing us around his base, describing his training. He barely made it, he just could not get his run down. He was so proud of his accomplishment, he had come so far. He dropped 100 pounds just to be able to enlist. He proved to himself he could do hard things. As we stood there that day with him, I hugged my son. I was surprised those shiny buttons did not pop right off his uniform, his chest was so puffed out with his pride. One of the letters he sent home during his training was that for the first time in his life, he felt truly happy. Wearing the uniform, representing his country, the bond with his fellow soldiers meant so much to him. All of that was gone now as all the hopes and dreams he had for his future died with him.
As I looked at the body in this casket, I could not recognize my own son, his face distorted from his injuries. No matter how grown up he was, he would always be my baby boy. I never dreamed I would bury a child. He was 17 days from his 24th birthday. The mother heart I had for Kale died with him. My mind was in a fog, numb yet in so much pain, I could barely breathe. It amazed me that my was body was able to keep functioning. It seemed, and still does, a horrible dream I cannot wake up from.
I knew that when my son enlisted in the Army, there was a very real possibility that he would die. When Kale left for Iraq he was certain he was not coming back. I would reassure him over and over that he had grandbabies to give me, and that he would die an old man. I prayed and worried every day while he was gone. I could not watch the news or any war type of movie. The day he returned safely on US soil, I breathed for the first time in that year, a huge weight taken from my shoulders. How relieved I was to hug my son a few months later on his last trip home. He knew that his next deployment coming up was to Afghanistan. This worried me even more than his last. I knew I had a very small precious piece of time to relax and not worry over my sons’ safety.
Nearly all of us in our family had spoken to Kale in the days or week he died in. You never imagine there will not be time to talk again. How I wish I had memorized every detail of that call.
I remember we spoke about college, he was so happy to finally be enrolled in some classes. He was working hard towards his next rank up of Sergeant. He had just gotten a big tattoo with his battle buddy commemorating their tour on security detail. I told him that I loved him. And that was it, the last time I would hear my son's voice. Even though I had just spoken to him, he was on my mind the next morning when I woke up. I called his phone, it just rang and rang. That evening, the kids were out, an unusual event to have the 4 youngest left at home to all have plans at the same time. Usually one was always home. What a blessing that was, to be alone when that knock came at our door.
It was a quiet date night for us, we were curled up on the couch, watching tv. We had felt so content with where the kids were at in their lives, with 8 children, this was no small miracle.
We had no idea that in the next few minutes that world would come crashing down. That knock came about 9pm. We often had kids popping by the house to see one of our kids so the time didn’t feel off to me, but something else did. I heard my husband talking to someone, voices that were asking to confirm who he was. The next moment, seemed to happen in slow motion as I saw and recognized two uniformed soldiers enter my living room. My heart just stopped beating and I knew in that very instant that my son was dead. The soldier closest to me seemed to not know how to begin his message, and he nervously asked, "how are you doing ma'am?" I stared into his eyes, and my voice shaky and climbing said, "I don't know, you tell me how I'm doing." He began those fateful words, "we regret to inform you that your son, Kale Daren Clay, has been killed." I just started crying, "not Kale!, not my son! not my baby!". I went to my room and grabbed my teddy Kale bear. He was a surrogate, something to hug when he was far away. I hugged it tightly and for the next few days, the bear, a small photo frame with Kale as a little boy with blond curly locks, and a hanky to wipe the tears that were now a faucet, never left my hands.
I could barely hear anything else the soldiers told us. There was a crash they said. Alcohol was involved. That was all we knew. My husband and I hugged tightly, our minds reeling with those words going through our heads, saying them, those awful words and trying to absorb this horrible news. We knew we had to start making some calls. Somehow we were going to have to tell the kids. We were going to inflict the worst pain imaginable. Dad called the kids each to come home, now. They said that they knew in his tone that something bad had happened. But they thought perhaps their grandfather or sister who had suffered for years with terrible depression, and had multiple suicide attempts would be the reason. 7 times we said those words to our children, watching their world crumple as they broke down in inconsolable cries and screams. I don’t know how we got through that night.
I could not sleep, I was awake all night. Sleep seemed too trivial. I scanned the internet for news of the crash. Over the next day or two, more details emerged. We learned that another soldier also died with my son. Their friend, who was driving survived the crash with some injuries. I tracked down the mother of this young man who had caused so much sorrow, at the hospital. We were in frequent contact. I felt great concern for him, I was blessed I think that I never felt hatred or anger for him. I could only contain the sorrow, nothing more than that.
As I talked with his mother, I asked her to kiss her son’s forehead for me, because I could no longer do that for my son.
They had gone to a bar that night, then on to a friends house. They left in the early morning hours, headed back towards their base. The driver, missed the turn by several miles, headed up a hill, and drifted into the wrong lane. A truck met them head on. Nothing could have saved my son, his side received the most impact. Here one moment, gone the next. It tears at my heart to think about those injuries, severely causing so much destruction to his body. A mother aches with the smallest of pain her child suffers, this just seemed more than I could endure.
The next week was a blur, funeral planning, notifying more family, receiving his personal effects; his wallet, stained with his blood on his family pictures, and his phone. Our Casualty Assistance Officer was our lifeline. I cannot even begin to imagine how we would have coped without him. He helped us make the hardest decisions of our lives. He was our angel, sent to help us cope with this unimaginable tragedy.
17 days later was our son’s birthday. He would have been 24. Shortly after that, we traveled to Ft. Carson to attend the memorial service. Another knife in my heart. Roll call was acid on my soul. Etched in my heart, hearing my sons name being called and no answer back. Just the sound of sobs. While we were there, we saw the crash site, and the car he died in. There was nothing left of me but pieces after that.
A year later we returned to Ft. Carson to attend the court martial trial for the no longer soldier, where he was sentenced to 10 years for the two lives he stole from their loved ones. Trial was excruciating, they showed the very sight I dreaded even thinking about, what my son’s body looked like in the crash. I walked out on the coroners report. Just couldn’t take any more.
Memories become so precious when that is all you have left. I was so afraid I would forget any detail of him. As we went through the court marital trial we learned who he was besides our son. The fine soldier, and good friend that he was to so many. Those who knew Kale would tell you that he was a prankster, a fun haver. His Captain told us he sought Kale out often, especially during their deployment, "because you just could not leave his side and not feel better." To those who knew Kale even better knew that behind that smile and happy go lucky attitude was a young man who was often depressed. So deeply that as a teenager, I wondered if he would survive that time. He was a wonderful brother and son. He loved his family, and he longed for the day he would become a father. He wanted that more than anything. He would have been a good father. How we miss those calls home, often brief and sometimes very far away. He just had to hear our voices and those precious few moments meant the world to us. I am so glad I had some of those voice messages that I had missed his call, saved. One of those messages is in a voice chip in the paw of Kale Bear. When I go to visit him at the cemetery, I play that recording of his voice.
I could not understand how others could go on in their lives. My world had just crashed. Nothing made sense anymore. I wanted to just never wake up. Because it was awake my nightmare existed. I prayed to dream of him. When I did it was torture, the visit too fleeting and temporary, and reminded me of the new reality. Learning to live in this new place, where nothing is as bright.
One night after crying, and tormented, I felt a presence of Divine Knowledge come to me, the words were to “focus on living and THE living.” Meaning there were those in my family who needed me, my husband and children. I could not give up and stay in this place. I had a choice to make.
That is the choice I make every day now, to wake up and face my day. To try my best to honor my son's memory, and to love the people in my life. I never knew it was possible to miss someone so very much. Whenever things so hard, I remember the promise I made to my son the day we buried him. It was that I would push myself to do hard things. He showed me how. If there were words that would summarize Kale's view on life, it would be the words, LIVE, LAUGH and LOVE.
Nancy L. Clay