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Ceremonies Held for Fallen Soldier Nathan Chapman

Aired May 27, 2002 - 12:29   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you to Georgetown, Texas, where a very emotional ceremony is about to take place. You're going to hear from a mother, Lynn Chapman, read the last letter she got from her son, Nathan Chapman, the first American to be killed on the war on terror in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, Mrs. Chapman would like to make a few comments.


I want to take a minute to thank all the Sun City (ph) community here for the deep love and the generous support you provide our family since Nathan's death in January.

In the first days after Nathan's death, our dear friends Neil (ph) and Sue Morris (ph) circled the wagons. And Ed and Judy Robinson (ph) circled the wagons around us to shield us from the press.

They flew to Seattle with us and were with us during the week of Nathan's funeral. They organized all the lodging, the transportation of our arriving family. Neil was the one, in a matter of hours, to put together the trust for the children. And they stood by us at each and every event.

Ed and Judy drove to San Antonio, picked up my family, and flew with them to Seattle. Elizabeth (ph) and Al Rasmussen (ph) helped us prepare for that journey. They brought us breakfast to start us on our way. Chip and Emma Jissinger (ph) and Paul and Nancy Wagner (ph) looked after our house while we were gone.

There was nothing too large or too small that we could ask of them that they didn't do. They thought of things that we didn't think of and did it for us before we thought of it. What great friends. Many of you came by and brought food. It was a treat. And we needed it. Others of you sent news clippings that you had saved for us. And I thank you so much. I could not have gotten to all of them. And they came from many places across the country.

Hundreds of you sent cards and letters and personal experiences. And they touched us so. Some of you lost children also. You stopped by and told us about, or you sent cards and letters to help us understand what that was like and that we could get through it. And you knew to give us a hug. One fellow I love so, Philip Kur (ph), came up on the golf range and gave me a big hug. And he knew, because he's experienced it, that that's what I needed at that time.

Lastly, I want to thank Neighborhood 12. They initiated this special tree that honors Nathan. He was a great fan of the outdoors. You could never get him to come in from the outside. And so it is just truly fitting.

In return for all these things you have done for us, I want to share something with you that is a special treasure to our family. It was a letter that Nathan wrote to us when he was 19. This was his first combat mission in 1989. And he wrote us this letter from Panama. He had parachuted in to Panama as a Ranger. We didn't know where he was. We weren't sure he was there. And we were worried. And I think he must have sensed that.

So, with the little he had available to him, he sent us this letter. He found a piece of cardboard, found a piece of tape, and wrote us this letter. And it came to me in my mailbox. And what a treasure it is. And let me just read this to you. It shows, I think, what empathy he had for people in other countries and what care he had for his family.

It starts off: "Hello. To start off, I'm perfectly fine and out of danger now. I can't say what all we did at this point, for security reasons. We weren't permitted to write until now. As you can see, we don't have much to write on. We earned our combat infantry badges and a Gold Star on our jump wings for jumping in.

"I'm learning how to speak Spanish now, because we need to communicate with the people. The people here are really friendly -- people here are really friendly because they have been living in fear for so long. They definitely want us here. They try to give us food and gifts, but we can't accept them. I wouldn't take them anyway. They are so poor. A lot of them have no shoes to wear. And they all live in sheds not suitable to keep our lawn mower in.

"I'm sure you know it is not like that all over the country, but where we are, it's bad. I'm sure you're worried, but don't be. The worst is over. In a few days, we will be going to an Air Force base in Panama and, shortly after, coming home to Washington. When we are allowed, I will tell you all that happened.

"In closing, there is one thing I would like to tell you. And that is: Rangers led the way, not the 82nd Airborne."


CHAPMAN: My apologies to the 82nd Airborne, but that was Nathan.

"See you soon, love Nathan."

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE) LIN: And CNN's Ed Lavandera standing by there.

Ed, that was a really poignant moment. It was something that you had talked about this before in the story that you did on Lynn Chapman. But I'm just wondering, why is it that she decided to share this letter now? Why was this important for her?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the thing that Lynn Chapman told me that stands out from all the letters that she received from Nathan Chapman was not necessarily the things that he would say to her or his parents, but the poignant way he would describe the people that he thought he was helping, whether it be in Panama, in Haiti, or during Desert Storm, or in Afghanistan.

What struck her, Mrs. Chapman, the most is how sensitive Nathan was to all of the people that he had helped in so many of the missions that he gone through in the 1990s and, for her, that that letter captures it. And then, also, if you could see up close the letter, it is on a piece of cardboard taped together, and with some little bit of chicken scratch the address of where it needed to go. And, miraculously, it got to her. So, it is a letter that she will always treasure -- Carol.

LIN: Ed, you got a chance to spend some time with family and talk to people in that community. What have you heard about Nathan that perhaps we didn't know before? We only know him as a soldier.

LAVANDERA: Well, Nathan's mother describes him as sensitive, caring. And his dad describes him as fearless. He says that all of the men in his unit, in the Green Beret unit based out of Okinawa, he actually had volunteered for this mission in Afghanistan. Another unit needed one soldier to fill in. And he volunteered for that mission. And that's how he ended up in Afghanistan.

So, his father says he works with a fearless group of men, but that, when they get around their families and get away from the mission that they are -- his mom described them all as teddy bears. So, at one point, I remember asking her, saying, "Do you think the guys in his unit, the Green Berets, would want the world to know that they are just a bunch of teddy bears?" She says, "Well, that's the truth, so they really can't hide from it too much." So, there's a sensitive side to men who do incredibly tough -- men and women who do incredibly tough jobs around the world.

LIN: Yes, certainly.

How are his wife and his two kids doing now?

LAVANDERA: Well, they live in Washington State, so a little bit of distance between the Chapman parents and them. We haven't spoken with them. But Nathan's parents tell us that they are doing well, that the children -- they are young. They are 2 and 3, I believe, so, obviously, don't fully understand what exactly has happened to their father.

And that is why Lynn Chapman says she is working on putting together a scrapbook of everything, of the 600 letters that they have received from friends, from people all over the world, describing Nathan Chapman, and all the press clippings that have been published over the last 4 1/2 months. And they hope, at some point, it will become a scrapbook that his children will be able to look at and remember someone that they describe as a heroic father.

LIN: Yes, yes, messages from a grateful nation.

Thank you very much, Ed Lavandera, reporting live from Georgetown, Texas.




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