Editor's note: We received hundreds of e-mails regarding Martin Savidge's report on Thursday about the lives of the 12 servicemen and women killed when their Black Hawk crashed in Iraq. We were unable to post the video on MSNBC.com last night because of a restricted photo, but we've solved that problem now and are pleased to give you the opportunity to view the video online. Just click here or on the image to watch. NBC's Jack Chesnutt was among the many producers who worked on the story. He writes about the time he spent with one of the grieving families, below.
In the living room of their suburban home in Colorado Springs, Cleo and Jerry Allgood are surrounded by their children, their family photos, and their memories of their oldest son, Col. Brian B. Allgood, M.D. On the coffee table, there is a print of a digital photograph. It's a snapshot taken quickly of Brian, standing in a military emergency room somewhere in Iraq. Allgood is in his camouflage field uniform, smiling, and his military haircut is "high and tight."
"That was taken the day Brian died," says Jerry Allgood. "It was taken just before he took off in the helicopter." The elder Allgood's voice is a bit scratchy. He's been crying.
Dr. Brian Allgood, orthopedic surgeon, West Point graduate, Army Ranger, avid reader and runner, husband and father, was one of 12 Americans who died last weekend when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Baghdad. Army investigators are trying to determine if the chopper was brought down by a shoulder-launched missile, fired by insurgents.
While the president and Congress and military leaders in the Pentagon discuss, debate, and argue about the future of the U.S. policy in Iraq, a family in Colorado Springs is only focused on what is past, and lost.
Cleo Allgood, her eyes puffy, whispers, "He was a wonderful human being. He would always put the other person first. His troops, he took care of them first, before his concerns about himself."
On this day, when their loss is so keenly felt, Cleo and Jerry Allgood are sitting with me, a stranger. A daughter and younger son are nearby. A dozen photographs are within sight; a serious Brian in his West Point dress uniform, a smiling Brian with his wife and son, 8-year-old Brian, grinning and wearing a cowboy hat and checkered shirt.
The questions are hard to ask, but for Cleo and Jerry, the answers are like hugs for their departed son. Cleo remembers Brian's run in the Boston Marathon, not to really compete, but just to finish.
"He was running with a friend, and having a tough time of it. He told me, 'I was ready to quit, and I looked over at my friend and he's still going! And I thought 'well, if he can make it, I can make it.' And, his friend, it turns out, was thinking the exact same thing, they found out afterward. But, they both did finish."
Cleo flashes one of the few smiles of the day, and Jerry picks up the story about running.
"He and I went running at a track when he was about eight or nine. He lapped me on the track, and he was proud of that." A chuckle. "And, I never ran with him again, it was just too embarrassing."
Jerry recalls how Brian quit wrestling in high school in spite of qualifying for the championship. "He said he needed to concentrate on his studies if he was going to get into West Point."
Cleo adds that whenever he had even five minutes to spare, Brian would pick up a book and read. A good father and a good doctor, she says.
Before he retired from the Army, Jerry had been a hospital administrator. He had seen his son in action in the operating room and in the recovery wards. He talked this week as though his son was still alive. His memories very much are.
"He reminds me of my daddy, the doctor, of how he treats people: with empathy. He had a way of making the patient feel that he was doing the best for them," says Jerry.
And finally, Jerry recalls the quiet times when he and Brian were fishing alone together.
"He didn't talk much, but when he had something to say it was worth listening to."
The stories of the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan are always worth listening to.