Soldier's Death Demands Place In Media Spotlight

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Lt. Brian Bradshaw was killed in Afghanistan the same day Michael Jackson died. His aunt, in a letter to The Washington Post, noted the discrepancies in media coverage and brought new attention to the loss of this soldier.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Michael Jackson and U.S. Army Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw have little in common. Well, there is one important detail: They both died last month on the same day, June 25th. Of course, we've heard about Michael Jackson. The week's four casualties in Afghanistan were destined to be overlooked - or so it seemed.

But then Lieutenant Bradshaw's friends and family mobilized to make certain their loved one's sacrifice is not overlooked. Correspondent Tom Banse reports from Bradshaw's hometown in western Washington State.

TOM BANSE: Walking and driving in the small town of Steilacoom, one thing you notice right away is how many American flags there are - seems like every other porch has one or a flagpole in the yard. It's not that surprising, I guess, considering this town is a favorite of retired and active-duty military.

The West Coast's largest Army post, Fort Lewis, is right next door. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hit a little closer to home here than most places. Still, it was a double shock to lose one of their own and then feel like the outside world didn't pause or notice.

Ms. TERRI NELSON (Youth Minister): And that was hard. That was a real hard pill to swallow.

BANSE: Terri Nelson is the youth minister at the area's Catholic church. She says Afghanistan war casualty Brian Bradshaw was like a son to her.

Ms. NELSON: Yes, we definitely want to recognize a big celebrity, king of pop, you know, has passed away. But let's put things in perspective and also remember we are sending people off daily and they're fighting, and they're not all returning.

BANSE: In Northern Virginia, Bradshaw's aunt was feeling much the same way - or worse. She penned an anguished letter to the editor before leaving for the funeral.

Unidentified Woman (Brian's Aunt): My nephew, Brian Bradshaw, was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan on June 25th, the same day that Michael Jackson died. Mr. Jackson received days of wall-to-wall coverage in the media. Where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers who died that week?

BANSE: Gillis touched a chord for many people. Thanks to the Internet, the letter published in the Washington Post raced around the world. It landed in network news offices; bloggers ran with it; even soldiers and airmen in Afghanistan read it.

Ms. GILLIS: People were telling me both that they thought that I had said something that they had wanted to say for a long time, that I had spoken for them. But also, they were offering tremendous outpourings of support and letting me know that they would not let his death go unnoticed.

BANSE: Gillis's dining room is now mail central. The table is piled with letters, along with a wide variety of supplies for troop care packages.

Ms. GILLIS: And then this is an interesting pile. This is something Brian had asked for towards the end.

BANSE: Candy, crayons and markers are in the pile.

Ms. GILLIS: They want things to hand out to the children, the local children.

BANSE: Gillis's nephew had his sights set on a military career since early in high school. In college, Bradshaw's Army ROTC mentor, Andy Equin(ph), recalls his unusually strong drive toward public service.

Mr. ANDY EQUIN: He was a patriotic kid, but his sense of service, I think, was bigger than that. It was more of just an overall sense of surveying humanity. I think he could've gone into the Peace Corps just as easily as he went into the Army.

BANSE: People who knew him say he attacked life in a positive way. He was a county search and rescue volunteer, a camp counselor and an altar boy. He traveled the world and went to Army Ranger school. Again, Terri Nelson.

Ms. NELSON: He did more in his 24 years than most of us do in a lifetime. He never took a moment for granted, and too many of us do. And I think that's his message, that's his legacy.

BANSE: Lieutenant Bradshaw deployed to Afghanistan with an infantry regiment from Fort Richardson, Alaska. The officer was buried with full military honors near Tacoma, Washington.

Unidentified Man: Let us pray together as God's children. Our Father, who art in heaven…

BANSE: Brian Bradshaw was 24. For NPR News, I'm Tom Banse.

Unidentified Group: …thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…

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