JONESBORO, AR - (KAIT)
This holiday season is bittersweet for the family of a solider killed in Afghanistan earlier this year. First Lt. Tyler Parten died in an ambush on his platoon in September. A West Point graduate, world traveler, and fluent in Arabic, Parten left his mark on so many people...but particularly on those who knew him best as a son, brother and grandson. They're together for the first time since the services following his death.
"There's actually tear stains on some of the pages," said Lona Parten about a journal written by her son and just recently shipped home to Arkansas. "He talks about how lonely he felt.
A journal written in Afghanistan, a scarf to keep away dust from the rugged terrain, and pictures of a life filled with anticipation are but a few of the things left behind by First Lt. Tyler Parten, the leader of a platoon killed as he tried to save one of his own.
"They called it an ambush," said Lona. "People don't realize what these kids are doing for us. For us!"
Trained at Fort Carson, a graduate of West Point ranking in the top 10% of his class, Parten encountered a world few of us can imagine in the wilds of Afghanistan--a long way away from Arkansas and his hometown of Marianna. His Christmas stocking hangs untouched in his mother's Jonesboro home.
"This is the first holiday that I've had my kids back since Tyler died," said Lona. "So two days ago we went through his stuff."
They're possessions that can't begin to reveal all the facets of a young man with wit and humor his family adored. His brother Daniel, who will soon graduate West Point like his brother, climbed Mount Killimanjaro with Tyler. They had other plans to travel around the world. Now Daniel plans to take Tyler's ashes and scatter them to the four corners of the world--beginning with Machu Picchu next summer. His philosophy is the same as his brother's.
"Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Get up everyday and make the most of your life," explains Daniel. "This is proof that tomorrow's not a guarantee. Freedom's not free. You've got to fight for it."
As the only surviving son, Daniel could ask for non-combat duty, but that's not for him nor his girlfriend, Tara who is also at West Point.
"If me and him have the insight that we have and the outlook on life and the relationship with our God that we do, then it's important and imperative that we take the responsibility that a lot of people don't want to take," said Daniel.
An empty guitar stand lies just below the fireplace mantel. Sister Anna Laura remembers a house filled with music. Tyler played the piano, guitar and even composed music.
"Since he did record himself and his guitar, that's helped us, too, because we can still hear him," said Anna Laura. "It's like he's still here playing for us.
"I just got into his computer yesterday and he was creating a symphony. There were eight layers and I could hear him singing," cried Lona. "People don't know. We don't know. We're selfish as a nation. We are selfish and we don't know the sacrifice these kids are making!"
Tyler's music and pictures of his life appear on a website created to promote the First Lt. Tyler Parten Foundation, an organization designed to carry on his humanitarian work.
"He would talk to the children," said Lona. "There are pictures of him writing math in Arabic script. He would play the harmonica and the children would run up and then he would say what a blessing to see the softness in an elder's (older Afghan citizen) eyes. That I'm putting a face on America. This is the face of America. We're not evil. We're not what the Taliban is trying to win over the Afghan soldiers."
Tyler's family says he knew what he was up against and how he hoped to change this rugged corner of the world. First, he said his heart had been changed. While in Afghanistan, Tyler wrote of his spiritual journey through e-mails. And he was ready for what would happen next.
"I don't know where my life will lead me," Lona reads from an e-mail Tyler sent earlier this year. "But, I am excited about the possibilities. So much that's yet to be done. So many adventures I've yet to undertake. So much life yet to be lived.
Less than a month later, Tyler was killed.