Dave Sharrett Sr. still sees his son in his dreams.
In one, the son is home on leave from Iraq, a warrior, a man. His boots are caked in mud. His fatigues are dirty. “And as we talk,” Sharrett says, “I realize I have to tell him that I know how he is going to die.”
Four years after Pfc. David H. Sharrett II of Oakton bled to death near a clump of scrub trees in Balad, Iraq, the father finally knows how the son was killed: shot by his own lieutenant in a case of “friendly fire.” But he still doesn’t know why.
(Infographic: Reconstructing the death of Pfc. Sharrett)
Sharrett, for years a beloved English teacher at Langley High School, simply wanted the full story and some accountability. He did not see that as a massive imposition on the Army brass.
Now Sharrett wonders, as he prepares to meet this week with the secretary of the Army, whether justice will ever be done.
Justice is the final thing he owes his son, a bear of a man who played defensive end at Oakton High School, bounced around Fairfax County for several years and then joined the Army in 2006, at age 26, in his quest to find himself as a man.
A year after Dave Sharrett II died, his parents, Vicki and Dave Sr., were nearly at peace. They had come to accept the Army’s explanation of how it all happened in the “fog of war.” They were confident in the Army’s promises of transparency and accountability for the lieutenant who fired the fatal shot.
Then came the third knock on the door.
After a memorial service for their son at Fort Campbell, Ky., in February 2009, soldiers who fought alongside him paid a surprise visit to the Sharretts. In a cramped room at the Holiday Inn Express, the soldiers used words such as “cover-up” and “lies.” They brought video recordings shot from aircraft high above the chaos that showed how Dave Sharrett II and two other American soldiers were killed.
The flames of outrage and injustice, nearly extinguished, erupted again. From that meeting at the hotel, Dave Sharrett Sr. began his own quest, one that has yet to end.
For the elder Sharrett, the first knock on the door came Jan. 16, 2008, while he was teaching English at Chantilly High School, where he had transferred after 17 years at Langley. A family friend stood outside the classroom. “Vicki needs you to come home,” the friend said.
It was appropriate that he would get the word about his son while teaching, because his son had grown up inside the classrooms of Langley High. The elder Sharrett and his first wife split up not long after Dave II was born, and Sharrett assumed full custody as a single parent. When day care fell through, little Dave spent the day in his father’s English classes at Langley, where many teenagers over the years came to know him as “Bean.”
Dave Sharrett Sr. had a devoted following at Langley, where he’d been a star football player and sprinter in the early 1970s, before playing college football at Colorado State University. Ruggedly handsome, with long flowing hair, he was also a guitarist who loved classic rock-and-roll. As a teacher, his charisma and fluency in both Shakespeare and Dylan endeared him to students, many of whom stayed in touch long after they had left Langley and Chantilly. Now retired from teaching, he has a large Facebook following.Continue to Page 2: Three more families forever devastated.
There were solemn knocks at other doors that same morning. In Fisher, Ill., outside Champaign, Doug Kimme received one. In Waterville, N.Y., so did Jim and Susan Sigsbee. Three American soldiers gone. Three families forever devastated. No details of their deaths were immediately available. (Editor’s note: A previous version of this article gave an incorrect name for Doug Kimme’s hometown.)
Jan. 16, 2008
The surge was on in Iraq. President George W. Bush had resolved that an infusion of U.S. forces would lead to an end of the sectarian strife. Pfc. Dave Sharrett II was an infantryman, part of the 101st Airborne Division, which was shipped into Balad in September 2007.
In the Bichigan region north of Baghdad, the Army discovered that members of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq were equipping suicide bombers and terrorizing residents. As part of Operation Hood Harvest, Sharrett’s seven-man Team 6, headed by Staff Sgt. Chris McGraw, boards two Black Hawk helicopters and prepares to hunt down and arrest, or kill if necessary, any suspected terrorists spotted after curfew. For Hood Harvest, Team 6 was joined by an eighth man, the company’s executive officer, 1st Lt. Timothy Hanson, who would handle communications with the air power overhead.
Shortly before 5 a.m., the overhead observers spot movement: six men, apparently unarmed, running single file into a palm grove and then across an open field. The helicopters and drone, beaming live images to the operations center, watch as the six men climb inside an oval-shaped thicket of branches and vines .