“I would like to say how proud our family is of our son-in-law Corporal Jason D. Fisher. He was killed on November 14, 2002 while on a training mission before his deployment to Iraq. He fought in Afghanistan, and even though he did not die in combat, we still feel that he died to help defend our country and we will always be proud of him.”
MEANING & HISTORY
On the 2008 “National Memorial Day Concert,” acclaimed actors Denis Leary, Gail O’Grady and Caitlin Wachs related the story of Staff Sergeant John Faulkenberry and PFC Chris Pfeifer. They and their wives, Sarah and Karen, became friends during training in Germany.
John and Chris ended up fighting together in remote northeastern Afghanistan, part of a tight twelve-man team of soldiers placed in the most dangerous region of our Nation’s most dangerous war. The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team arrived in northeastern Afghanistan in May 2007. Taskforce Saber was assigned to provide humanitarian assistance to the local villagers, and to engage enemy slipping in from Pakistan. Each squad was a tight group of twelve – all dependent on one another to survive. Before he arrived in this remote, perilous terrain Staff Sgt. John Faulkenberry had already served two tours in Iraq.
BATTLES BUDDIES FROM AFGHANISTAN (As portrayed by Denis Leary, Gail O’Grady and Caitlin Wachs)
DENIS LEARY (as John Faulkenberry) You go to war to serve your country, but when you get there, the most important thing is to get you and your buddies back home alive. There’s no choice, no second guessing, no hesitation in what you have to do. All my squad was great, but PFC Chris Pfeifer was, I’d have to say, one of the best. Chris and I trained together in Germany. Our wives were there too, and we were all buddies. Chris was always willing to pitch in and do his part – and then some. He was just 21, but I relied on him a lot.
We’d been in Afghanistan about three months when we got a call two platoons were in trouble. There were serious casualties – one guy shot in the face; another hit square in the jaw. When Chris and I and the others arrived, the enemy was pounding our guys with AK47’s, RPGs, machine guns -- and firing mortars from every direction. In the middle of the firefight, we loaded up the injured and took them to Medivac. When the Command Post took a direct hit, I climbed up the hill to rescue the commander, but he was already gone. I brought his body down, and then I went back up to retrieve vital maps and equipment. The bullets were still flying -- suddenly I got hit by machine gun fire -- at least two or three rounds. The blood started gushing out and filled up my pants. “It’s over,” I thought. “I just lost my leg.” It hurt so much I thought I was going to die. Then I saw my buddy Chris. In the middle of the gunshots and mortar explosions, he was bringing a stretcher to me, carrying me out of harm’s way. At that awful moment, I’ll never forget how he looked after me. “It’s alright, sarge,” he said as he loaded me onto the chopper, “We’ll get you out of here, you’re gonna make it…” I don’t remember much else until I got back to Germany and woke up to see my wife Sarah.
GAIL O’GRADY (as Sarah Faulkenberry) I believe my husband was called to be a warrior, and I was called to be his wife. But it’s tough. I’d already had two friends bury their husbands. You have to deal with it -- but you never get used to it. Three weeks after John was wounded, I was with him in ICU at Walter Reed, when Chris’ wife Karen called from the Army hospital in San Antonio. Chris had been shot by a sniper, and was critically wounded. The bullet had struck his kidney, lungs and spinal chord.
CAITLIN WACHS (as Karen Pfeifer) At the base in Germany, they didn’t want to tell me how badly my husband Chris had been wounded. I was more than 7 months pregnant, and they were afraid I’d go into labor. They tried to keep me off the plane, but there was no way I was going to let him go to the hospital in San Antonio without me.
JOHN FAULKENBERRY I felt so helpless. If I’d been there with Chris, maybe I could have prevented it, or at least I could have helped him afterwards. He had been there for me – but how could I help him now? So when Chris took a turn for the worse, I knew I had to send Sarah to San Antonio.
SARAH FAULKENBERRY John told me, it’s more important to help Karen and Chris, than to stay with him. So I called his dad to come baby sit him while I was gone. I didn’t want to leave John; I didn’t want to have to bear that sorrow, as well. But Karen and I are battle buddies, too. It was my job to help her with her battle. She would have done the same for me. By this time, Karen was due any day. I stayed in the room with her; I held Chris’ hand at night so she could get some sleep. They say that hearing is one of the last things to go. So I’d tell Chris how much his buddy John was thinking about him.
KAREN PFEIFER Chris was on dialysis; there was fluid in his lungs… but the worst part was an infection just raging through his body. Our last hope was to boost his white cell count with a donor transfusion. Sarah was a match for Chris’s blood.
SARAH FAULKENBERRY They prepared me for a transfusion, and I was giving my blood when he crashed again. It was just too late. It was heart wrenching, but Chris had been struggling so hard, in so much pain, for the past month. Karen told him that he had fought long and hard enough, and it was ok for him to go onto heaven.
KAREN PFEIFER I had to let him go. He was taken off life support, and within minutes, he was gone. I kissed him goodbye. Then Sarah took me straight to the OB/GYN doctor to make sure the baby was OK. Two days later I was induced so I could go to Chris’ funeral. Sarah stayed with me for the entire 18 hours of labor.
JOHN FAULKENBERRY Going to Chris’ funeral was the first trip I made from the hospital. My leg still in bad shape, and if the nerves don’t grow back, it may have to be amputated. But there was no way I was going to miss that funeral. So many of our buddies came – paying their own way from all over the country; one of the guys even came from Germany. We just had to be there for Chris.
KAREN PFEIFER Before he left for Afghanistan, Chris would kiss my stomach and try to talk to the baby. He was so excited about being a Daddy. It’s been eight months since Chris passed away, and my daughter Peyton was born. But it doesn’t get any easier. The only thing that helps is that the guys in Chris’ unit have stayed so close to me and Peyton. Chris was so proud he had helped save John’s life – and he’d be even prouder to know that John and all this buddies have become my family.
JOHN FAULKENBERRY It breaks my heart that Chris will never know his daughter. There’s nothing I can do but be there for Karen and Peyton and give them the best life they could dream of. Sarah and I’ve invited Karen to stay with us in San Antonio until she’s ready to be on her own. When Chris loaded me onto the medivac, it was the last time I saw him. But now, when I look at Peyton, I see Chris. Chris’ spirit will forever be a part of Peyton. Whatever Karen and Peyton need, we’ll be there for them.
The Faulkenberrys and Pfeifers experience is one of countless stories of caring, sacrifice and devotion that occur among battle buddies. Soldiers often return home changed people, having seen and experienced things their families stateside cannot even imagine. Military families who have lost loved ones can become isolated in their grief, feeling that those around them do not care, not knowing how to reach out for assistance. In these cases, battle buddies can be the most comfortable and comforting allies, offering unspoken understanding of the sacrifices of war and sharing the burden of grief.
Visit the Healing & Support section of this website to find out more about how you can support our veterans and their families.