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Published: Sunday, 9/11/2011

Servicemen, familes come to grips with tragedy of war

36 with area ties die in conflicts; others suffer severe wounds

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fostoria resident Cindy Parsons, with her son, Sgt. Shane Parsons, travels the country speaking on behalf of wounded veterans for the Wounded Warrior Project, an advocacy and support group. Fostoria resident Cindy Parsons, with her son, Sgt. Shane Parsons, travels the country speaking on behalf of wounded veterans for the Wounded Warrior Project, an advocacy and support group.
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When jets commandeered by terrorists snuffed out nearly 3,000 lives on Sept. 11, 2001, Sgt. 1st Class Charles "Chuck" Adkins had been in the U.S. Army nearly six years.

Before that day, Sergeant Adkins had not been in combat.

After that day, his father knew that was about to change. The United States clearly would not stand for the attack on its own soil, and his son would be called on to defend his country.

"He went to Iraq twice," said Charles Adkins, 62, of Milan, Ohio. "There was just a constant worry about him being over there for two tours, but when it came time for him to go to Afghanistan we were really worried about him then. He came and stayed with me a week before he left to go over there, and when he left the driveway it was just an eerie feeling I had that that'd be the last time I'd ever see him."

On April 16 of this year, his fear was realized.

His only son was killed by a suicide bomber who casually walked into a meeting room where Sergeant Adkins and other NATO trainers were working with Afghan soldiers. The 36-year-old left behind his wife, Sarah, and five young children.

"He sacrificed his life for the country and for his men," Mr. Adkins said. "My understanding is he probably could have gotten out of that room but he wanted to make sure his men got out of that room first of all. That was the kind of guy he was. His men came first. He thought he was responsible for their lives and their families.

"That was his goal whenever he talked to me -- he didn't want to lose any of his men that were under his command."

Since 2001, more than 6,000 American military personnel have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere in the war on terror. Thirty-six with ties to northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are among them -- Sergeant Adkins the most recent casualty.

LOST IN WAR: Area soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq

In Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers have fallen to improvised explosive devices, helicopter crashes, suicide bombings, and gunshots. Some 45,000 U.S. personnel have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with injuries -- from severe physical injuries to brain impairments to emotional disorders.

Cindy Parsons of Fostoria knows the toll the war has taken on the service members and their families.

Her son, Shane Parsons, lost his legs and suffered a brain injury in 2006 when a roadside bomb detonated under the Army Humvee he was driving in Iraq. A full-time caregiver, Ms. Parsons also travels the country speaking on behalf of wounded veterans for the Wounded Warrior Project, an advocacy and support group.

"The number of soldiers who have been severely injured with multiple limb loss is just astounding, and the suicide rate is unbelievable," she said. "That's why I'm so passionate about doing what I'm doing. It's not only therapy for me and my son, but it's a way for us to keep that fire going and also educate our young."

Ms. Parsons said the 9/11 attacks were pivotal in her son's decision to join the U.S. Army soon after he graduated from Fostoria High School. He does not regret his decision.

"Even with no legs and a brain injury, you ask him today, 'Would you do it again?' and he never hesitates. 'Absolutely. I would do it in a heartbeat because my job isn't finished,' " Ms. Parsons said.

Ten years after those planes flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pa., the job still isn't finished.

Myrta Gschaar of Maumee, whose husband, Robert, was killed in the attack in New York City, said she believes the United States is doing the best it can.

"I don't have anything negative to say about my country. I love my country," she said matter-of-factly. "Everybody does the best that they can. We're all humans. We don't have all the answers, but we will get the answers, and everybody should be proud of our military men and women."

For families of the wounded and fallen, that goes without saying.

"He's our hero," Jennifer Miller of McClure said of her brother, Ohio Air National Guard Lt. Col. Kevin Sonnenberg, who died in a plane crash in Iraq in 2007. "It's hard because he isn't with us anymore, but he did what he did to keep us all safe. They all are -- all the fallen heroes have done what they do to keep us safe."

Mr. Adkins said losing your child is unnatural, though it comforts him to know his son died trying to save others. "I'm proud of him. I'm really proud of him. He was just a good person. He always had a smile on his face. That's what he was known for -- he always had a smile on his face."

Army reports indicate the suicide bomber had been watching Sergeant Adkins' group and knew the place and time of its  weekly gathering. The killer entered the room in an Afghan Army uniform, acted as though he was supposed to be there, then detonated multiple grenades.

"They didn't realize anything was happening until he started saying their prayer they say before they blow themselves up," Mr. Adkins said. "I understand Chuck started to try to get everyone out of the room. He just happened to be the one in the way of the blast."

Sergeant Adkins and four other soldiers were killed.

"I talk to him all the time. I've got his pictures," Mr. Adkins said slowly. "Before I go to bed every night, that's the last thing I do is talk to him, and when I get up in the morning, that's the first thing I do is talk to him. There's just days when I think about him to the point where me and my wife sit down and have a good cry, then we go on with the day."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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