Washington Week

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A note on a fallen hero

By Robert Costa

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I felt far removed from war. It was something on television, far away in the Middle East or the Balkans. Or, it was in a history book that we’d read at Pennsbury High School. Then came the 9/11 attacks. Several people from my hometown were killed. In an instant, my generation was changed. War was no longer faraway carnage. It was something all too real and all too close.

The turbulent times prompted some of my classmates to join the military after we graduated from high school in 2004. One of them was Nathaniel E. DeTample. We knew him as Nate. He was a wrestler from Morrisville, Pa., just up the road from where I lived. He was a patriot, and I mean that sincerely. His father, Glenn, was a police detective. His mother, Kim, worked with local libraries. Nate loved them, he loved Pennsbury (he’d often wear head-to-toe outfits in the school’s color, orange), and he loved the United States.

I vividly remember Nate as a quiet guy in a PHS sweatshirt, an Eagle Scout who was unfailingly polite to teachers and to his friends. I remember how he paid close attention to people and listened intently. He rarely raised his voice. But when he spoke, you listened. Even though he looked younger than his years, he carried himself like an adult. Like a man on a mission.

After we graduated, Nate became a private first class in the U.S. Army. Although his dream was to follow his father into the criminal justice field, he first wanted to serve. He completed basic training at Fort Benning and was sent to Iraq. Eventually, he found himself in Baiji, north of Baghdad.

If you look back at news reports, you’ll see the heat there was sweltering and every day was dangerous. From what I’ve heard, Nate was as great a soldier as he was a student, friend and son. He paid attention, he listened, he hustled and he cared.

Nate died on August 9, 2005 in Baiji. He was investigating a grenade incident and a mine exploded. Enemy forces also attacked amid the horrific chaos.

He was 19 years old.

As we all pause for Memorial Day, I hope you will keep him and his family in your thoughts and prayers. We pause for a day; they live with pain every day.

But we all can appreciate Nate DeTample. A kind and caring boy from Bucks County, a man on a mission.