Losing Our Sons

Column: What our sons can teach America

(This article, written by Melvin Bledsoe and Daris Long, originally appeared in USA Today on July 8, 2012)

This spring, the Obama administration threatened to veto the 2013 Defense Authorization Act. Of all the reasons given for the threat, the objection to granting thePurple Heart to Pvt. Andy Long stands out as strange. That is, unless you know the story.

On June 1, 2009, Pvt. Long was killed outside an Army recruiting office in Little Rock by Carlos Bledsoe, who had become Abdul Hakim Mohammed after converting to Islam. Since then, we, the fathers of Carlos and Andy, have been trying to tell our story so that other parents do not experience our tragedy.

Carlos grew up in a loving, church-going family. There’s a picture of Carlos at his high school graduation with a huge smile on his face, ready to go off to Tennessee State University for college. He looked forward to becoming a businessman and joining the family owned tour company in Memphis.

Switch to Islamism

But he did not get the education everyone expected. Instead, he became interested in Islamic extremism. At TSU, preachers from a radical Nashville mosque led courses in Islam. Eventually, Carlos began frequenting this mosque, converted, and took the name of the mosque’s imam. This imam taught worshipers that America “is the worst country on earth,” that the Christian faith is “the greatest lie ever told,” that this worldly life “is trash,” and that Muslims must seek death and the afterlife.

Carlos began to change his behavior: He abandoned his dog in the woods because he was told Muslims shouldn’t have dogs. He took Martin Luther King‘s picture off his bedroom wall. He was sent by another Nashville imam to a school in Yemen, which turned out to be an al-Qaeda front. Carlos then returned to America and planned his own jihad.

Andy grew up in a military family and decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps. He found out he was good at it; he enjoyed it. Before being deployed to South Korea, he volunteered to work as a recruiter in Little Rock near our home. His mother, Janet, went to visit him there on June 1, 2009.

Fateful day

That was the day Carlos decided to kill a soldier. He had already firebombed a rabbi’s house in Nashville and shot up another rabbi’s house in Little Rock. That morning, he fired three bullets at Andy. Quinton Ezeagwula, another soldier, was also shot but survived. Carlos eventually pleaded guilty to killing Andy, and was sentenced to life in prison without chance for parole.

Since that tragic day, we have been speaking out about the dangers of homegrown terrorists. We testified to Congress, with mixed results. Some congressmen dismissed us for not being experts. Nevertheless, following our testimony, Congress passed a provision, as part of the defense bill, to give the Purple Heart to Andy and the victims of a similar 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas. Now the administration is threatening to deny it.

The president, we believe, doesn’t want to admit the first successful al-Qaeda murder onU.S. soil since 9/11 happened on his watch or to acknowledge the problem of homegrown Islamic radicalization. This indirectly provides cover to extremists at the expense of moderate Muslims. To withhold the Purple Heart from U.S. soldiers for political reasons is to dishonor those who risk everything to protect us all.

We have pledged to our families and to ourselves that we will not be silent until America knows what happened to our sons. On June 1, 2009, it happened to Andy and Carlos. Tomorrow, it could be your children.

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