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Cheney mom loses son in Afghanistan war, husband to COVID-19

Gloria Hackwith, mother of Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clint Prather, lost her son in April 2005 to the war in Afghanistan.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Gloria Hackwith and her husband, Dave, spent every April 6 sharing almond chicken from the Ming Wah restaurant.

It was a favorite of their son, Clint Prather. The meal was in his honor on the day of his death in Afghanistan in a helicopter crash, which happened to fall on Dave Hackwith’s birthday in 2005.

“My husband said, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever celebrate my birthday again,’” said Gloria Hackwith, recalling that day in 2005. But the couple kept the ritual, even ordering takeout when the pandemic made dine-in impossible.

Then Dave Hackwith, although vaccinated against the coronavirus, got COVID-19. His heart, which had been repaired in two surgeries, couldn’t take the strain, his wife of 40 years said.

“He was only 114 pounds, and I couldn’t even lift him,” Gloria Hackwith said.

Dave Hackwith died in late August, just as American troops began moving out of the country where he’d lost his stepson, and as the country approached the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks that sent him there in the first place.

Gloria Hackwith, however, isn’t bitter.

“I’m happy where my husband is. He’s not hurting anymore,” said Gloria, from behind a mask in the backyard of the home in Cheney where she lived with Hackwith for the past four decades, and where Clint Prather grew up. A 6-year-old “pound puppy” named Shyloh, a ridgeback and beagle mix, nuzzled against her foot and tried to climb on the picnic table.

Thousands of miles away, Clint Prather’s wife, Irene, is raising the couple’s two children with the help of her family in Augusta, Georgia. A son, Aaron, recently helped her go through items of Clint’s that had been stored away in an attic.

“He took a lot of his dad’s military stuff, stuff that I had a hard time going through myself,” Irene Prather said from her home in Georgia.

Clint Prather graduated in 1992 from Cheney High School. His mother said he had wanted to be in the military from an early age, placing Army men figures all over the home she made with Dave east of town.

After his time at Cheney High, a period that included a 1989 state championship with the Blackhawks, Prather entered the Army. He wanted to fly helicopters, and graduated from flight school Sept. 10, 2001.

Dave and Gloria were there. Prather came into the room after the first plane struck the twin towers.

“We woke up the next day, and he came in and told us, ‘I think that I’m going to be doing what I want to do,’” Gloria Hackwith said.

Prather was a combat medic based at Georgia’s Eisenhower Army Medical Center when he met Irene, who was from nearby Augusta.

“After we got married, he always enjoyed running,” Irene Prather said. “He wanted his kids to run, too.”

Gloria Hackwith, mother of Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clint Prather, holds a photo of her son when he ran cross country for Cheney High School.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gloria Hackwith, mother of Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clint Prather, holds a photo of her son when he ran cross country for Cheney High School. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo

Prather served one tour in Iraq, then returned to Afghanistan in February 2005. Gloria Hackwith keeps a shadowbox full of his military decorations, including a posthumous Bronze Star and two Air Medals. There’s also a photo of Prather in flight gear next to a grinning Hamid Karzai, the country’s former president, who’s laying a hand on Prather’s shoulder.

“He didn’t have a good feeling about going over there,” Hackwith said. “He told my husband, ‘I felt good about Iraq. I have a feeling about Afghanistan.’”

Irene Prather remembered the discussions with her husband, and their two children, before he went overseas.

“He’d say, just take care of the family. Just be happy,” she said. “He told me people die in wars. I knew that he wasn’t afraid to die.”

Prather is buried in Spokane Memorial Gardens, about 25 paces from the gravesites of his two brothers who died shortly after birth. Aaron left pink roses on the grave during a recent visit that were still there this week.

“With all my heart,” the inscription on his gravestone reads.

Clint Prather served with the Army in both Afghanistan and Iraq after graduating from Cheney High School.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Clint Prather served with the Army in both Afghanistan and Iraq after graduating from Cheney High School. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo

Gloria Hackwith said that’s what she’s seen in her daughter-in-law, raising two children who remind her of her lost son.

“I don’t want them to ever forget their dad,” Irene Prather said.

They also haven’t forgotten their grandparents, Gloria Hackwith said.

“She’s my daughter, and she always will be,” she said.

‘It’s OK, you can go’

Gloria Hackwith’s pictures from her 40 years with Dave, an accomplished bluegrass bass player, are mostly off the walls of her manufactured home.

That’s because the couple has twice been under evacuation orders due to wildfires in the area. After a second heart attack earlier this year, preparing Dave Hackwith to evacuate became nearly impossible, his wife said.

“We did little things, but it got to the point where he couldn’t hardly walk anymore,” Gloria Hackwith said.

Dave Hackwith continued to play the bass, even after his heart attacks. It was over music that the couple first met, at a bar called Goofy’s in Cheney where Dave had a gig.

The couple wed, and Gloria Hackwith said her husband loved Clint and her other surviving son, Chuck, as his own.

“I said to him, would you have taken all four of my babies if they would have been alive,” she said. “And he said, ‘You bet. In a minute.’ Now how many men would have said that?”

A Facebook message Dave Hackwith sent in response to a reporter’s questions about his stepson indicated that it was only his bout with illness that kept him from responding.

“Not a problem at all. I have been fighting health issues, so my wife gave you a call. She should be able to give nearly everything for you,” he wrote in response. “And thank you for remembering.”

He died a couple of days later.

It was Dave Hackwith who gave the OK to adopt Shyloh, even though they both knew the dog was a bit too big for their home, Gloria Hackwith said. They spent more days with him at home as the pandemic continued, and as the Hackwiths got their vaccinations and only left home for car rides and a run to the store while masked.

“He got to a point where he wasn’t happy anymore,” Gloria Hackwith said. “He couldn’t do anything.”

She took her husband to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center when he got so sick following his heart attack that she couldn’t care for him. It was there they learned that he’d tested positive for COVID-19. Gloria Hackwith doesn’t know where he would have contracted the virus, and she also tested positive.

Gloria asked to see her husband, which she said was initially denied because of the surge in cases. She eventually was able to visit the hospital and say goodbye to her husband, through the protective equipment required by providers.

“It took him 20 minutes to pass away, after I said it’s time to go,” Gloria Hackwith said. “It’s OK, you can go.”

The home’s a little more empty, Hackwith said. Still, she said she wasn’t angry or bitter about her husband or her son.

“At first I thought that, everything Clint did over there in Afghanistan, was nothing, but that’s not true,” she said.

Irene Prather shared the same belief about her late husband.

“The time that we spent in Afghanistan, I think it has helped, it’s kept a lot of stability for our country. It’s helped other people in Afghanistan,” she said.

Clint’s service also pushed Irene Prather to volunteer for the local Veterans Affairs hospital. She’s now a dental technician at the base where her late husband was stationed.

Still, one question does dig at Gloria Hackwith.

“I just don’t understand why good people die,” she said. “But I guess I’ll find out later.”