by Spc. Roland Hale CAMP TAJI, Iraq – When 11-year-old Dominic Wheeler watched his brother DJ leave for Iraq in 2003, his mother asked how he felt about his brother going to war.
“Just as long as he comes home,” Dominic responded.
Seven months into his deployment DJ was killed on patrol when a group of insurgents fired several rocket propelled grenades into his Bradley fighting vehicle. He came home to be buried in Concord, Mich.
But the story did not end there for Dominic. On the seventh anniversary of DJ’s death he had a unique opportunity to pay tribute to his brother.
Soldiers occasionally bring flags on missions to take home as combat keepsakes, and the unit gave Dominic the chance to fly a flag for his brother.
The flags are usually tucked into a cockpit or crew bag, but the unit arranged to allow Dominic to personally unfurl the flag over the city.
On Oct. 13, one of the unit’s Black Hawk helicopters made a small detour with Dominic aboard. Near the same street where DJ fell, Dominic and one of the crewmembers spread the flag across the open door of the helicopter. They flew especially low while Dominic held the flag.
“It was pretty cool, I was lucky to do it,” said Dominic. “None of my brothers have been able to do something like this for DJ.”
Dominic kept the flag with him, but sent home word about his experience. The news was particularly important to the boys’ mother, Mary Thorrez-Wheeler.
“DJ's blood lies in the ground of that country,” wrote Mary in an email, “and to know that one of my sons got to be close to that hallowed ground it filled my heart.”
Mary hopes to visit the spot herself with the rest of DJ’s brothers, five of whom are also serving in the Army, she said.
“One day I’ll walk the area with all my soldiers at my side in honor of DJ’s sacrifice,” she said.
Her sons will likely be called to serve in combat again, however, before they can re-unite to pay their respects to DJ in Iraq. Four of the five have already served combat tours, and another will possibly deploy to Afghanistan next year. Dominic will return to Fort Riley when his unit completes its year-long tour here.