Dave Sharrett Sr. had been told to expect an e-mail last week. And when it came Thursday, it was big. The Army told him that the officer who shot and killed his son in Iraq in 2008 should be dismissed from the Army, as Sharrett and many others had been saying for years. That full story is here.
On Monday afternoon, I spoke to Dave Sharrett Sr. as he and his wife drove to a hotel with electricity. They have moved from Oakton to a suburb of Lynchburg and were still without power after Friday’s storm. Even on a cell phone while driving, Sharrett is a passionate and eloquent speaker. He was a high school English teacher for 30 years, after all.
Here’s what he had to say about an unquestionable peak in his four-year odyssey for justice, but one balanced by the realization there is little joy in the downfall of another. He also feels strongly that others in the Army should be disciplined as well, not merely Capt. Timothy Hanson. After Sharrett’s remarks are e-mails from two Army commanders directly involved in the case, received later Monday:
What was your reaction to the Army’s e-mail revealing they were dismissing Hanson and revoking his badge?
“I felt a huge sense of relief and vindication, and I felt that [Secretary of the Army] John McHugh had kept his word to us and done the right thing. I really want to give him credit for having heard us out thoroughly and acted on what he heard.
“When Vicki [Sharrett’s wife] and I met with him, I’m not sure that he was fully briefed on the extent of how atrocious this situation was. Vicki and I filled him in when we met in his office. I don’t think he was well served by his support staff. When we went chapter and verse through what happened, he was genuinely disturbed, as if he were hearing it for the first time.
“Just judging his reaction to Hanson, what he did, what he did afterward, he [McHugh] reacted as a man. He reacted the way the rest of the Army has not reacted. Finally, at the top, the lights went on and he thought it was time to do the right thing.”
What does this action say to you?
“To me, it says they knew about this. They knew the full extent of this within days and they made a deliberate decision not to hold him accountable. It was left to us to do that, and it took four and a half years.
“There are other people involved in this cover up that need to be held accountable.
“This is a vindication of our efforts to discover what happened and what did not happened. I don’t think they ever figured we would get the information we got. They must have counted on this never seeing the light of day. And when I started asking questions, they were duplicitous in the way they dealt with the answers, and they treated us like a tin can they could keep on kicking down some dark alleyway....
“These guys knew what the evidence was, they knew what the evidence said, and they made a conscious decision not to look at it. They made a conscious decision to treat me as a pain-in-the-[butt] radioactive Gold Star father who shouldn’t be taken seriously.
“And I told them I was going to give my son a voice. In fact, after the last meeting at the Pentagon, someone said, ‘The Sharrett matter is closed.’ As somebody once said, ‘It ain’t over til it’s over.’ They were wrong. The matter was not closed. We kept pushing.
“The whole thing was about Dave. About giving him a voice. He acted honorably on the battlefield. He did everything he was supposed to do. And the ones who knew about this covered it up, acted cowardly. They need to explain why they covered it up, and put all the families through this hideous ordeal we’ve been through. All we wanted was the truth. We told them that repeatedly. And they chose not to do that. Not to tell us the truth. Not to pursue justice...We’ve had to peel the onion back slowly. They knew all the time what was under those layers. They were fully aware of that. And without the help of James [Gordon Meek, former New York Daily News reporter], without the help of Doug Kimme [father of Pfc. Danny Kimme, killed by the enemy in same battle], without your help, you put this across the goal line in the media.
“I wouldn’t rest until I got justice for him, and I could not have done it without you guys. What that says to me is there are people out there who are not able to get justice for their sons. I see this as a victory for our family, but also for the families who are not able to get justice, that this is an encouragement to them, that the hard truth is without political involvement and the involvement of the press, you can’t get anywhere. But thank God for the free press and for men who see value in pursuing what is clearly right. Without people like that, we are absolutely voiceless and the truth is not told. And truth is something that is paramount to have an organized society and an Army that is a respected institution.
“There were men here who were not interested in the truth. They were interested in covering their careers. And as the great Neil Young once said, ‘There’s more to the picture than meets the eye.’
“Gordon [Peterson, military aide to Sen. James Webb] kept his finger on the pulse of these people. I think there are a number of people up there who respect him. He firmly believed in what we were doing, met with us, listened to us, read the evidence and went to bat for us. And the truth is when you have politicians and the press keeping this check on the Army, you get results. But that’s sad for people who don’t have resources like us. I hope this is encouragement for those people to fight on.”
What are your thoughts toward Capt. Hanson?
“I feel, at times, an overwhelming sense of pity for him. A huge sense of pity. Pity because I’m sure he’s suffering. It hurts to know that other people suffer. On the other hand, he never contacted us, never showed any contrition, became part of this elaborate cover up and did to our family, in a certain sense, what he did to Dave. So my sense of pity for him gets seriously tempered. Our family prays for him because he needs it. As we all do. This is big s--- to happen to somebody. The point is all of this could have been avoided. They launched an extensive, calculated effort to keep this story from seeing the light of day. And any father who loses a son is going to try to do everything he can to get to the bottom of what happened.”
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Later Monday, Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling replied to my e-mail asking for a response to Sharrett’s claim that he and others had covered up the truth in this case. Hertling was commander of multi-national forces in northern Iraq in 2008, and is now commander of U.S. forces in Europe:
“I am aware of the actions regarding the CIB and CPT Hanson’s dismissal.
“Again, while I know Mr. Sharrett continues to grieve the loss of his son, as I continue to grieve for all the Soldiers we lost in combat, I can assure you he is incorrect about his perception about what the chain of command knew regarding CPT Hanson’s actions the night of the fratricide, or after. As I mentioned, our intense focus in investigating the events of that night was on finding out how the fratricide happened, and how to prevent it from happening again.”
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I also asked Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend for a response. When the Sharretts had convinced one of Hanson’s superiors to file a reprimand of Hanson in early 2009, Townsend rejected it. On Monday, Townsend wrote:
“I support these additional decisions in this case which have been taken at the highest levels of the Army. As we discussed before, based on the information available to me in late 2008-early 2009, I remain of the opinion there was insufficient grounds, at that time, to re-open the decisions made by battlefield commanders. I think it is proper that the Army has continued to review this case and take further actions to achieve a more appropriate outcome — and it says a lot about the family that throughout this process they have continued to urge the Army along. I hope these most recent decisions will bring them some small measure of peace.”
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Other stories on the Sharrett case:
The main story about Dave Sharrett Sr.’s four-year struggle for truth and accountability;
VIDEO: Overhead helicopter and drone video of the battle where Dave Sharrett II and two other American soldiers were killed;
A graphic showing how the battle unfolded;
Profiles of the key players in the Sharrett saga;
A photo gallery of the Sharretts.
The Army’s 2008 investigation into the case, later found to be incomplete.
VIDEO: Dave Sharrett Sr. discusses how his faith helped him handle the death of his son.
The aftermath of The Post’s story, including the Sharrett family’s frustrating meeting with Army Secretary McHugh.
Writing the Dave Sharrett Story, Volumes 1-8.