Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fallen Soldier's Diary: Jonathan Santos

Fallen soldier's diary: Santos' words speak profoundly of life and war
By Brett Kelman
Pacific Daily News
December 6, 2008

Hunkered down in a desert and surrounded by killers, U.S. Army Spc. Jonathan Santos scribbled in a worn journal he'd carried since he flew into Iraq excited and woozy on Dramamine. He wrote about wanting to live so he could go on to accomplish "great" things.

"I will write the great American novel and get hired as a professor at a prestigious university," he wrote on Oct. 10, 2004. "But first I have to make it out of this war alive ... And I will go to college and move on to do great things with my life. Look out world. I'm almost free."

The 22-year-old Guam native recorded intimate details about his 38 days in Iraq -- both in the journal and in a video diary. He was killed on day 38.

A documentary titled "The Corporal's Diary" -- created from Santos' journal and home videos -- has made headlines nationwide. It includes details about his squad mates' and his family's struggle to cope with their loss.

Yesterday, Santos' mother, Doris Pangelinan Kent, said she always keeps a copy of her son's journal by her side, so that when she misses her son, she can hear him.

"For those of us who know Jonathan, you can hear his voice in what he wrote and hear everything he hoped to do," she said. "I know it was a dream of Jonathan's to go back to Guam. He wanted to go. And so I want for the film to come to Guam so people can see who they can be proud of. Jonathan has given us so much to be proud of as a people."

Santos most recently lived in Guam from 1992 to 1997, between his father's tours of duty in Germany. He graduated from Piti Middle School in 1997, Kent wrote in an e-mail.

Santos' father, Staff Sgt. Les Santos is in active duty in the Guam Army Reserves.

Santos was recruited into the Army out of high school in 2001. He was deployed to Haiti on a mission of peace, Kent said. He was shifted from Haiti to Fort Bragg in North Carolina for training before heading to Iraq in 2004.

On some pages of his journal, Santos' tall looping letters spill into the margins of the pages. He cursed. He left exclamation points everywhere. And when he felt strongly about something, he capitalized everything.

After his layover in Germany, Santos poured jokes, musings and fears into his journal. He wrote daily right up to the end -- 38 days, 37 pages -- and injected his humor into every page.

"Tomorrow is the first day of Ramidon, the Muslim equivalent of Lent, or equive-Lent," Santos wrote in his journal on Oct. 14, 2004. The following day he was killed.

His family now lives in Bellingham, Wash., a coastal town about 50 miles south of the Canadian border. Kent and her two other sons live in a house coated with photos of their fallen hero.

Kent said without Justin and Jared, she would be lost.

"If it wasn't for them, I wanted to die, you know. I missed Jonathan so much," Kent said yesterday. "I miss him every day."

Santos became the seventh son of Micronesia to die in the War on Terror when a suicide bomber attacked a military vehicle and killed him and two others on Oct. 15, 2004.

His story is reminiscent of other fallen soldiers. He was young and aspiring. He went to fight a war in a faraway place, and he didn't come back. He missed home and home still misses him.

But unlike so many other soldiers' stories, Santos' has been preserved.

It was at that Bellingham home where Kent received Santos' military trunk containing the belongings he left behind when he died. Inside were his gear, books, his combat boots -- and his memories.

"I had never known Jonathan to keep a journal," Kent said yesterday. "I had anticipated the video cassettes and a video camera coming back. He had just bought it and he took it everywhere and videotaped everything in his life. He was just so enamored with it, I knew the tapes would be there. But when I went through the box, I found the little book."

Santos' journal comes packed with details about his deployment. His brother narrated the documentary by reading the journal over footage from Santos' camera. Together they paint a picture of an undeniably likable young man.

He was a bit of a goof. He liked video games, movies and boozy birthday parties. When the barracuda eats all the clownfish in beginning of "Finding Nemo," Santos gets angry. And like many people, he read "The DaVinci Code" in two days. It was the last book he finished, according to his journal.

Theater showings of the documentary sold out in Santos' home town when the movie was released in October, according to the Bellingham Herald. The film made waves in the nearby city of Seattle.

On Nov. 27, Good Morning America profiled the documentary and its story about Santos and another soldier, Pfc. Matthew Drake, whom he befriended in Iraq. Drake survived the attack that killed Santos, but was left physically and mentally disabled.

In the aftermath of her son's death, Kent reached out to the soldier who lived. Kent said she met with Drake and his mother so they could bond over their sons' friendship. She found Drake on a long road to recovery, with his mother suffering from survivors' guilt. When they parted, everyone had healed a little, she said.

This year was especially hard, Kent said, because as the U.S. presidential election dragged on, the deadly war in Iraq was always under debate. The casualties on the nightly news were a constant reminder of her son. She feels each loss as if it were her own.

"Every day was like reliving Jonathan being killed again and again and realizing that other mothers were hearing it for the first time that their son was gone. It was just relentless," she said, sobbing a little.

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