The Spokane region has paid a disproportionate price for the war on terrorism. Of the nine soldiers from Washington state killed in the Afghanistan war, five were from the state’s east side.
In Sunday’s tribute to men and women with local ties who have died in the Middle East, The Spokesman-Review inadvertently omitted all but one of these, Army Spc. Harley Miller, of Spokane, who was killed in a plane crash in 2004.
Overlooked by the newspaper but not forgotten by its readers were three soldiers killed in Afghanistan and a Marine who died when an air refueling tanker supporting Operation Enduring Freedom crashed in Pakistan. Here are their stories:
Marine Sgt. Nathan Hays
Died: Jan. 9, 2002, in Pakistan
At the time, the crash of an air refueling tanker in the mountains of western Pakistan in January 2002 resulted in the single largest loss of American life since the war in Afghanistan began.
Seven Marines were killed, including Hays, of Wilbur, Wash., a town 60 miles west of Spokane. Hays was the son of Kim and Jim Hays, a Washington State Patrol trooper, of Spokane. He enlisted in the Marines a few months after graduating in 1999 from Wilbur High School, where he had been a standout athlete and Eagle Scout.
The Marine typically flew C-130 transport planes, but on the day he died he had volunteered to fill in for a fellow flight mechanic on the ill-fated KC-130.
Mourners, including members of the Washington State Patrol and Marine Corps, filled Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Spokane for Hays’ memorial service. Relatives also attended a service at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
“Nathan was involved in momentous historical events, and he would not have been happy with anything less,” his family said in a statement when he died.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Clint Prather
Died: April 6, 2005, in Afghanistan
“I guess I’ll get to do what I was trained for,” Clint Prather told his stepfather on Sept. 11, 2001.
The year of the terrorist attacks on America, Prather trained to fly CH-47 Chinook helicopters. He had previously served as a medic after enlisting in the Army upon graduation from Cheney High School in 1992.
Prather may have been piloting the Chinook that crashed in a sandstorm on April 6, 2005, killing 18 people, including the five Army crew members, nine Army soldiers, one Marine and three civilian contractors.
Prather left behind his wife, Irene, and two children.
“He was 100 percent behind what he was doing,” his stepfather, David Hackwith, said at the time.
“He would do it in a minute to ensure his kids would be free.”
Army Sgt. Travis Wayne Nixon
Died: Oct. 29, 2005, in Afghanistan
Nixon died warning his men of an enemy ambush while on patrol near Lwara on the Pakistan border.
That was very much like the 1999 graduate of St. John-Endicott High School, said those who knew him best.
“Travis was the only casualty,” his mother told the Community Current, the newspaper in St. John, 50 miles southwest of Spokane. “He alerted his squad of nine men of the danger, and no one else was hurt.”
Nixon was part of the 82nd Airborne Division, which had been pursuing remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida. It was his third overseas deployment, having served previously in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nixon was the son of Maggie and Nick Nixon, who moved to Pine City, near St. John, in 1992.
He left behind a wife, Wendy, who lived with him at Fort Bragg, N.C.
For his actions on the day he died, Nixon was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously.
Army 1st Lt. Forrest P. Ewens
Died: June 16, 2006, in Afghanistan
Ewens was leading a combat mission in the Pech River Valley of Afghanistan when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, killing him and another soldier.
Ewens was a 2000 graduate of Jenkins High School in Chewelah and a 2004 graduate of Whitworth College, where he and his twin brother, Oaken, were enrolled in the ROTC program.
He met his wife, 1st Lt. Megan Ewens, who graduated from Gonzaga in 2003, in the ROTC program. Both served with the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, N.Y.
Were it not for a shoulder injury, Megan Ewens, who served in military intelligence, would have deployed with the same battalion as her husband in March 2006, according to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.
“This was the love of her life,” Megan Ewens’ mother, Elizabeth Arebalos-Jagelski, of Dayton, Wash., told the newspaper. “They were so well-matched, such a good team.”
The “Faces of the Fallen” that appeared on pages D1 and D8 on Sunday are:
“ Army Spc. Robert Benson, died Nov. 5, 2003, in Iraq.
“ Army Staff Sgt. Stephen C. Hattamer, died Dec. 25, 2003, in Baqouba, Iraq.
“ Army Sgt. Curt E. Jordan Jr., died Dec. 28, 2003, near Beiji, Iraq.
“ Army Sgt. Jeffrey Shaver, died May 12, 2004, in Iraq.
“ Army Sgt. Jacob H. Demand, died Sept. 17, 2004, west of Mosul, Iraq.
“ Army Spc. Blain M. Ebert, died Nov. 22, 2004, near Baghdad.
“ Army Spc. Harley Miller, died Nov. 27, 2004, in Afghanistan.
“ Army Sgt. Damien T. Ficek, died Dec. 30, 2004, in Baghdad.
“ Army 1st Lt. Jaime Campbell, died Jan. 7, 2006, east of Tal Afar, Iraq.
“ Army Sgt. Lucas T. White, died Nov. 6, 2006, in Baghdad.
“ Marine Cpl. Darrel J. Morris, died Jan. 21, 2007, in Anbar province of Iraq.
“ Marine Pfc. Bufford K. Van Slyke, died Feb. 28, 2007, in Fallujah, Iraq.
“ Army Spc. Ryan M. Bell, died March 5, 2007, in Samarra, Iraq.
“ Army Reserve Cpl. Kelly Grothe, died May 3, 2007, in Iraq.
“ Army Sgt. Maj. Bradly Conner, died May 9, 2007, near Al-Hillah, Iraq.