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The rest of the story - Joe Thompson

Author's Note: Sgt. Philip Allan Dodson, Jr., of Forsyth, was killed in Iraq on Dec. 2, 2005. The 4-year anniversary of his death is Wednesday. He was a member of the 148th Forward Support Battalion of the Georgia Army National Guard's 48th Brigade that has been deployed overseas several times over the past years.

Dear Phil:

You died just four years ago. But it seems like a lifetime has passed since that tragic Humvee wreck on that hot, Iraqi day.

Your family received notice of your death on Dec. 5, 2005, setting off a chain of community response that was unprecedented since World War II. I had no direct relationship with your family at that time, but I remember vividly the announcements and news coverage of your homecoming and funeral.

You probably would have been embarrassed by all of the attention and accolades that were given to you and your family then, but something about your death touched a nerve in this community that continues to resonate.

I think, in some way, that your death served to reawaken the spirit of patriotism and respect for our troops that had been missing for too many years. Your remembrance among folks in Monroe County continues strong to this day.

My involvement with your family came via my son's marriage to your daughter, Allison, in 2008. Your daughter has become the mother of my first grandson since that time. I regret that you never will get to hold Joseph Allan Thompson, but take my word for it -- he is a real cutie and a fine young man to continue your legacy.

I was honored to have my name linked with yours in his naming, and I know that you would be as proud of him as I am. Allison says he is as stubborn as his daddy and Granddaddy Dodson combined!

I wish I could talk to you occasionally about being enough of a grandfather for the both of us. That is, perhaps, the hardest part of this family situation, having to be a grandfather to Joey and a fill-in father for Allison. Your family has been supportive of Allison, Daniel and Joey during these ensuing years, but I find myself constantly comparing my actions for them with "what would Phil have done?" questions.

You set a pretty high mark with your daughter, and I am challenged every day to reach that.

I am trying to make sure that your memory is strong in Joey's mind as he grows up without knowing who you really were. I want you to be more than a photo, or digital file, when your grandson talks about his family in school. I want you to be a name that means something throughout the year to your grandson and not just on the day that you died.

That is the real tragedy of war -- the death of a loved one who will exist in memory only, as a point in time, without a chance to mold and shape your children and grandchildren throughout your life.

Four years is such a short time, but it really has been a lifetime for your family. They have started over in creating their own lives without you, and in bringing new life into this world.

It is very satisfying to me to see your memory preserved by those who loved you the most. I cannot begin to understand the loss they had in 2005, but I can understand the tremendous responsibility that I feel in preserving the memory of your life, service and sacrifice for this country.

The date of your death hardly is a time of celebration, but I feel like celebrating that life has continued and flourished for your family. I will be forever grateful that I have the opportunity to be part of your extended family.

By the way, you will have another grandchild to welcome into this world in the spring. I hope to help that child learn and appreciate your ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

Joe Thompson is Commercial Print Manager for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald.

He can be reached via e-mail at jthompson@news-daily.com.