Father of soldier: ‘My worst nightmare was happening’

Veterans Day speaker talks about sacrifice, gratitude in aftermath of scare 

 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

For three days, Bryan Vita didn’t know for sure if his son had died in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan.

Elk River Police Department Sgt. Bryan Vita spoke to a Veterans Day crowd at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Elk River.

Elk River Police Department Sgt. Bryan Vita spoke to a Veterans Day crowd at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Elk River.

He first was told that his son, David, was a casualty by a friend who stopped by his office at the Elk River Police Department, where Vita is a detective sergeant.

“My worst nightmare was happening. I thought my son was killed in Afghanistan,” Vita told a Veterans Day crowd Monday at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Elk River.

Vita made phone calls and looked on the Internet, but no one could tell him anything.

Finally he got the number for a casualty hotline.

“They put me on hold,” Vita said. Then they told him they couldn’t tell him anything over the phone and he would have to go home and wait for information.

He went to work, came home and sat on the front porch until midnight, staring down the road and hoping a car with military personnel bearing bad news would never arrive.

Tom Tyler (left) and Bryan Vita of the Elk River Police Department Honor Guard raised the flag on Veterans Day at Twin Lakes Elementary.

Tom Tyler (left) and Bryan Vita of the Elk River Police Department Honor Guard raised the flag on Veterans Day at Twin Lakes Elementary.

“Three days went by like that,” he said. “My wife and I went through a lot of garbage. After about the third day, I got word it was a mistake. Somebody said something in a government building that wasn’t true.”

But he still hadn’t heard from his son. Finally, a week later, he got a call from him.

David said: “Hi Dad. How’s it going?”

Vita told him, “You have no clue what we just went through.”

David was OK, but he had been on a mission where he lost a buddy due to a roadside bomb.

He went on to complete his tour in Afghanistan and come home. Now he wants to be an underwater welder, Vita said.

“He was one of the lucky ones to come home,” he said.

Bryan Vita told a Veterans Day crowd about the day he feared his son had been killed in Afghanistan.

Bryan Vita told a Veterans Day crowd about the day he feared his son had been killed in Afghanistan.

But Vita said his son brought a piece of the war home with him and still has to deal daily with the things he saw while serving in Afghanistan. That’s true for many veterans, Vita said.

Vita paid tribute to the several dozen veterans and active-duty military personnel sitting at the front of the auditorium with him, thanking them for their service and sacrifice. All were relatives or friends of students at Twin Lakes Elementary and had introduced themselves earlier in the program.

“It’s a big sacrifice that all these people right here have given for all of us so we can be safe,” Vita said.

He told the audience to thank veterans for their service every day, not just on Veterans Day.

Gracie Nowlan read her essay about Veterans Day during a program at Twin Lakes Elementary.

Gracie Nowlan read her essay about Veterans Day during a program at Twin Lakes Elementary.

“I’m proud of our freedom that we have, but that freedom … comes at a great price,” Vita said.

Vita is the son of a World War II veteran and served in the Army himself. Both of his sons, Dan and David, joined the military after graduating from Elk River High School.

David became a welder. After training he went to Fort Lewis, Wash., and was assigned to the Special Forces.

Dan became a Cavalry Scout, going in front of the military and trying to seek out the enemy to identify where to strike.

Also speaking at the Twin Lakes Elementary program were six fifth-graders who read their essays about Veterans Day. They were Claire Anderson, Addisyn and Avery Schuster, Abigail Charleson, Gracie Nowlan and William Dulmage.

A student high-fived a veteran at Twin Lakes Elementary.

A student high-fived a veteran at Twin Lakes Elementary.

The program wrapped up with the students standing and facing the veterans and military personnel at the front and singing “Hero in This Place.”

The words of the chorus were: “In this land of liberty, you have given all for me. Paid the price to keep us free, with honor and with grace, you’re a hero in this place.”

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