Archive for Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Tragedy in Iraq hits home

January 21, 2004

Colten and Micaela Weaver will get to see their father, Braden Weaver, this weekend.

It will be their first visit with their father, who is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot on emergency leave from Iraq, in a year and a half.

But the Tonganoxie youngsters will never get to see their uncle Aaron Weaver again.

"He's in heaven now," said Micaela, who is 4. "Like a big angel."

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Aaron Weaver died Jan. 8 in a helicopter crash in Fallujah, Iraq. His funeral was last week in Inverness, Fla.

By all accounts, said his former sister-in-law, Rhonda McHenry, the mother of Colten and Micaela, Aaron shouldn't even have been in Iraq.

Not only was he a survivor of the 1993 battle of Mogadishu recounted in the movie "Black Hawk Down," 32-year-old Aaron was also a cancer survivor.

In 2002, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. But after surgery and treatment, Aaron insisted on returning to active military duty.

"He was very patriotic," McHenry said. "He was all about his country. He wanted to be there, he had to get special doctor's orders to be able to go over there."

When the helicopter crash took the lives of all nine on board, Aaron only had one month left to spend in Iraq. Ironically, Aaron wasn't on a military mission when he died. Instead, he was a passenger in a Red Cross helicopter, on his way to a hospital for a routine post-cancer blood screening.

"That was all," McHenry said sadly. "He was the passenger."

According to McHenry, the helicopter was clearly marked with large red crosses on the sides and bottom.

"It's not fair," McHenry said. "If they are going to take down a Red Cross helicopter there are no rules."

When McHenry heard the televised news about the helicopter's crash, she was concerned about Braden, her ex-husband who pilots a Black Hawk helicopter. His brother, Aaron, was an OH-58 helicopter pilot.

"I had a bad feeling when I went to bed, but it was about Braden, not Aaron," McHenry said.

Her telephone rang about 1:30 the next morning. It was Braden, who is 30.

"He said I'm coming home," McHenry said. "My first thought was oh no he's lost an arm or a leg -- and then he said Aaron died."

The brothers had seen each other a couple of days before.

"Aaron had told Braden he was going to have his blood test done, and when he came back he was going to spend the night with Braden before he went back to his base," McHenry said. "But Braden got the call that night that Aaron had died."

Aaron, whose wife, Nancy, and two children, Austin, 10, and Savannah, 1, lived in Fort Bragg, N.C., belonged to the 82nd Airborne.

After the battle in Somalia, Aaron was awarded the bronze star, McHenry said.

Her children will grow up knowing their uncle was a hero.

"It's horrible that he died, but when there's someone that amazing that is part of your children's lives, you just want people to know how amazing that person was," McHenry said.

McHenry, who is married to Kirk McHenry, said Aaron and Braden are from Inverness, Fla. The men have a half-brother, Steve Weaver, 39, who also is an Army helicopter pilot, currently stationed in Hawaii.

McHenry's children said they would miss their uncle.

"He liked to tell us jokes and stuff," said Colten. "He played jokes on me."

Micaela agreed.

"I miss him, too."

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