Willsun M Mock
October 22, 2006
Killed in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
|From Cable News Network CNN.com 11/10/06
After his death, Sgt. Mock's words mean even more
POSTED: 8:00 p.m. EST, November 10, 2006
By Arwa Damon
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. CNN correspondent Arwa Damon has been based in Baghdad since March 2003.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- I was scrolling through the Pentagon's list of American troops killed in action in October, trying to determine how many deaths were caused by roadside bombs and how many by small-arms fire.
That's when I came across the name of Army Sgt. Willsun Mock, 23, of Harper, Kansas.
The realization that he died crashed down on me. (Watch Mock describe the thoughts and fears of a soldier at war -- 4:11)
I flashed back to the moment that I saw the news release on October 22 of a "MND-B soldier killed by roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin." A colleague had said at the time: "That's 11 this weekend."
Number 11 was Mock, a soldier I met in the fall of 2004.
I really got to know Mock, as his comrades called him, as a specialist during the infamous November 2004 Falluja offensive.
He would be on the gun on overnight duty, and I would be trying to send our stories back to CNN's Atlanta headquarters under a clear starry night that was in utter and complete contrast to the sounds of bombs raining destruction on the city.
The battle, the bonds between people, the bizarre conversations, the little snapshot memories -- all rushed back.
Mock had no pretenses: Not about the mission and not about why he loved being a soldier despite all the emotional turmoil.
Nothing hit me like watching the interviews and the video of Mock. Words that he said back then are now haunting, chilling,and heartbreaking.
"Your heart is racing so fast you are not sure what happened until you sit down later and think about it and figure everything out," he once said. "Moments like that, the artillery whistling overhead like someone is whistling 'Dixie' and it explodes...."
Mock paused, like he always did, contemplating his words, "Moments like that ..."
'Everybody walked away changed'
He used to say he was afraid to go back home to Kansas, worried that the war had changed him too much.
"I think not only me has changed, I think that everybody that was there, enemy, friendly, everybody walked away changed," he said.
"The ways that we changed, you have a different outlook on life. You don't take nearly as much for granted, and when you tell your girlfriend or your mother, your father, 'Hey -- I love you,' you really mean it."
Those were his words just days after the fight for Falluja ended.
He used to apologize for being "rough around the edges." He wasn't. In many ways, he was still the gentleman his family had brought him up to be.
'Nobody wants to die'
Certain words that he uttered with such certainty and air of pensiveness now carried so much more meaning.
"Nobody wants to die out here even though the soldiers would for our country. Any of them would -- that's not a question," he said as his first deployment came to an end in February 2005.
And for him it was "absolutely" worth it.
"It would break my heart to see one of my brothers in the military serving in a place like this," he said when asked why he would stay in the military. "I would much rather myself suffer than one of them, and they have kids to think about, and I'm a little young for that right now. And it's good serving with the men; it's good serving for this great nation."
What would stick with him after he departed Iraq for the first time?
"Every time we lose soldiers and we have our ceremonies here for the fallen comrades and they play the taps for those men -- that's probably the moments that will stay in my mind more than ever," he said. "From now until the day that I die, every Memorial Day and Veterans Day when I go to the local cemetery in Harper, Kansas, and they play the taps, I am sure it will hit me pretty hard then."
Now, this Veterans Day, they will be playing taps for him -- for Mock, the soldier with his motto tattooed under his sleeves -- "Strength and Honor." The sweet, brave 23-year-old from Harper, Kansas.
Mock was redeployed to Iraq in August 2006. I last saw him on a rooftop in eastern Baghdad in early October after one of his men was wounded by an insurgent sniper.
His last words to me were, "Take care of yourself. It's dangerous out there. Keep your head down." Twenty days later, he died when a roadside bomb went off.
The words echoed by his men at his memorial were "Strength and Honor, Sgt. Mock."
|Army Sgt. Mock was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany. Mock died from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was in the lead Humvee as squad leader. Willsun was the second youngest of seven children. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, his two older brothers were married with children so he decided he would represent his family in the war on terrorism. He enlisted in the Army more than four years ago and was serving his second tour in Iraq when he was killed. Willsun served in some bad spots in Iraq. During the infamous November 2004 Fallujah offense he would be on the gun on overnight duty. He used to say he was afraid to go back home to Kansas, worried that the war had changed him too much. He had a different outlook on life; he didn't take as much for granted. He also used to apologize for being "rough around the edges" but he wasn't. He was still the gentleman his family had raised him to be. When asked what would stick with him after he departed Iraq, he said "Every time we lose soldiers and we have our ceremonies here for the fallen comrades and they play the taps for those men – that's probably the moments that will stay in my mind more than ever. From now until the day that I die, every Memorial Day and Veterans Day when I go to the local cemetery in Harper, Kansas, and they play the taps, I am sure it will hit me pretty hard then". Now, each Memorial Day and Veterans Day, they will be playing taps for him; the soldier with his motto tattooed under his sleeve – "Strength and Honor".|
|MONDAY, NOVEMBER 06, 2006
Willsun Mock laid to rest
In the days since her son's death, Ann Mock has been flooded with condolences and stories about her youngest child.
She always knew WillSun Mock was special. She just didn't know how many people felt the same.
Tales of Mock's heroism, valor, courage and selflessness continued Thursday as the 23-year-old U.S. Army sergeant was honored at his Wellington church before being buried in Harper, where he lived.
"He left quite a legacy," Ann Mock said the night before the services. Her son was killed Oct. 22 by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad.
J'Sun Mock told the overflowing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints audience that his brother told him he wanted to be strong like him one day. But part of J'Sun's strength, he said, came from WillSun's admiration.
"He had a fierceness about him that just left no room for worries about his own self," he said.
As J'Sun Mock spoke, WillSun's flag-draped coffin sat feet away.
"Brothers we were before, brothers we were here, and brothers we will yet be," he said in closing.
WillSun's brother-in-law Shane Kirby was brief with his own words about the member of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division based in Schweinfurt, Germany. But Kirby read to those gathered a letter to Ann Mock from Capt. Michael B. Bacha, WillSun's company commander.
"Sgt. WillSun M. Mock was an awesome soldier," Bacha wrote. "Your son always lead his men from the front, and that's exactly what he was doing" when he was killed.
He was in the lead Humvee as squad leader. It was his second tour of duty in Iraq.
The night before the Oct. 22 explosion, Mock's last words to Bacha reflected a tattoo on his arm: "Strength and honor."
The letter, Kirby said, showed that the Mock the family knew was the same one his fellow soldiers knew.
After the funeral, a miles-long procession made its way from Wellington to Harper Cemetery. Members of the Kansas Patriot Guard led the way, with about 160 motorcycles in front and behind Mock's hearse and his family.
Another 40 rode ahead to the cemetery to wait for their arrival.
The group, formed in 2005, aims to show support for families and friends of fallen soldiers. On the other side, a handful of members of the Topeka-based, Fred Phelps-led Westboro Baptist Church protested outside the Wellington Church.
Ann Mock praised the Patriot Guard's support Wednesday evening.
"They are as dedicated to their cause as Will was," she said.
As the procession headed west on Highway 160, groups large and small, waving flags large and small, lined the road.
"Fly it," said Fon Stangl of Argonia to her 4-year-old granddaughter, Madison Owens. "Fly it high."
Similar scenes took place in Argonia - with workers outside Kiser Manufacturing and Argonia High School - Danville and Harper.
Above the procession as it was westbound through Harper was a flag raised by the Harper Fire Department, flying from one of its trucks. As the vehicles headed back east on Main Street, two Aquila trucks did likewise.
At the cemetery, six uniformed soldiers placed Mock's casket above its resting place. Mock received a full military graveside service, with a 21-gun volley and taps played on a bugle.
The same six soldiers crisply folded a U.S. flag triangularly for presentation, along with WillSun's military medals, to Ann Mock. The same medals and another folded flag were given to his father, Michael Mock, a Vietnam War veteran, before the service concluded.
Afterward, those at the graveside service approached Ann Mock and her family, sharing more condolences and more tales about WillSun.
Everything she had heard since his death was bittersweet, Ann Mock said. If he hadn't been killed in action, she said, it's likely she wouldn't hear these stories - certainly not from her son directly. He was too humble and would never "toot his own horn."
She shared what she had heard and what she had read on the Internet with her family in the days between WillSun's death and burial.
Afterward, Ann said one of her daughters, choked up with emotion, asked her, "Why didn't we know this before?"
From the Hutchinson News
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