Iraq war left more than a dozen Middle Georgia families grieving

wcrenshaw@macon.comMarch 19, 2013 

The Iraq War began 10 years ago Tuesday, but recently Cheryl Futrell recognized a different anniversary.

On March 8, a picture-perfect Friday afternoon, she drove her black sport utility vehicle through the winding roads of Macon Memorial Park to the veterans section in the rear. She got out with helium balloons and a flower bouquet in her arms.

She came to celebrate what would have been the 28th birthday of her only son, Army Sgt. Marcus Shawn Futrell. He was one of at least 16 people from Middle Georgia killed in Iraq. He died Dec. 2, 2005, in a Humvee accident.

“You would think after seven years it wouldn’t hurt anymore,” she said softly, as she sat on a granite bench at the foot of his grave. “But each day I get up, and the pain is still there. Sometimes it’s as strong as it was when I just found out.”

Her son died on a Friday, and she got the news at about 10 a.m. that Sunday. She was upstairs, and someone in the house yelled that there was a military van outside. She ran down stairs and flung the door open just as a chaplain and lieutenant were about to knock.

They didn’t have to say a word.

“I just lost it,” she said. “The chaplain sat next to me. The lieutenant sat next to me, and the lieutenant said, ‘The United States Army regrets to inform you that your son, Spc. Marcus Futrell, was killed in a Humvee accident.’ ”

Death toll climbs

The first Middle Georgia resident to lose his life in Iraq was Army Sgt. Michael T. Crockett, 27, of Soperton. He died July 14, 2003, in Baghdad by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The last was Army Sgt. Robert Gregory Tenney, 29, of Warner Robins. He died June 29, 2011, after his unit came under enemy fire in Badrah.

Bombs and rocket-propelled grenade attacks caused most of the deaths. Others were the result of small arms fire, unspecified combat action and accidents.

In the years following the death of her son, Futrell grieved each time she heard of a local soldier returning home in a coffin. Families of those killed are a close-knit group, and Futrell has tried to reach out to those in Middle Georgia. She also frequents a web page where families share their grief.

“Every time I hear about a death over there, it hurts,” she said. “I think about that family. It’s like you are part of a big family that no one wants to be a part of.”

Other families who lost love ones also say time has done little to ease the pain.

Gena Courtney, of Macon, lost her son Marine Sgt. Kelley Courtney in Iraq in 2004.

“It hasn’t gotten any easier,” she said. “It feels as raw as if it were yesterday.”

‘A good soldier’

Macon Memorial Park is on busy Mercer University Drive, where many graves overlook rushing traffic. But the veterans cemetery in the back is as quiet as if it were in a far away country meadow, with a giant American flag flying in the center. Marcus Futrell’s grave lies among others who gave all for their country. His mother likes to go there, sit on the bench and talk to her son.

“It’s not the only time I talk to him,” she said.

They moved to Macon in 1995 after she divorced his father, who served in the Air Force. Marcus attended Southwest High School and graduated from Crawford County Comprehensive High School.

He liked sports, especially basketball, and March was one of his favorite times of the year. He would cut out the NCAA tournament bracket from The Telegraph and fill it in as games were played. He loved to fish, and his mother said he would have liked that there is a pond near his grave.

“He was the fun person in the family,” she said.

He joined the Georgia National Guard at 17 and was a communications specialist. In Iraq he repaired radios and other communications equipment. She spoke to him often after he deployed.

“He was a good soldier,” she said. “He loved being a soldier.”

He was driving the Humvee when it crashed. Two other 48th Brigade soldiers were with him and died, including Philip Dodson Jr. of Forsyth. Cheryl Futrell knew Dodson when the two worked for the Department of Corrections.

The Army suspected Futrell, who had been working long hours, fell asleep at the wheel. His mother doesn’t buy that.

She said some of his fellow soldiers called her from Iraq and told her the vehicle he was driving had significant mechanical issues. But there’s a more important reason she believes the accident wasn’t her son’s fault.

“He came to me in a dream,” she said. “I was driving the Humvee, and he was the passenger. The steering column popped, and I couldn’t steer. He said ‘See there mama. That’s what happened.’

“I know what happened. The Army can say what they want to say, but I know it was a malfunction.”

While she takes pride in the fact her son died serving his country, the reasons for the Iraq War and the aftermath trouble her.

“It makes it seem kind of pointless,” she said. “There were a lot of lives lost. Look what it cost all of us.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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