By Dena O'DellApril 4, 2008
FORT RILEY, Kan. (Army News Service, April 4, 2008) - A little more than a year after he was killed during his third tour of duty in Iraq, a former Fort Riley Soldier has been awarded a posthumous Bronze Star with Valor for his courage under fire more than two years ago.
Christi Waterbury, wife of Spc. Forrest "John" Waterbury, accepted the award on her husband's behalf from Maj. Gen. Robert E. Durbin, commanding general of Fort Riley and the 1st Infantry Division, March 27 at Riley's Conference Center.
Waterbury was killed by sniper fire March 14, 2007, while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, Multi-National Corps-Iraq. The award stems from Waterbury's actions under fire August 12, 2005, while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, a Fort Riley-based unit.
It was on that August day that Waterbury and other Soldiers from 3rd Platoon, Alpha Co., 2nd Bn., 70th Armor were conducting a route-clearing mission in Iraq. When the platoon moved east, the Soldiers were hit by an improvised-explosive device triggered by a rocket-propelled grenade. Insurgents then attacked the convoy with small-arms fire and launched a second rocket-propelled grenade. Heavy enemy fire followed.
During the attack, Waterbury's platoon leader was seriously injured and his vehicle was disabled. While the gunner left his machine gun to treat the platoon leader's life-threatening injuries, Waterbury dismounted from his own vehicle and maneuvered through enemy fire to reach the lieutenant's vehicle, climbing into the turret and laying down suppressive fire. His actions allowed the gunner to render lifesaving first aid and take the platoon leader to safety.
Long time coming
The award has been a long time coming for Christi and the couple's son, Wesley.
Christi remembers her husband once saying he didn't need an award to know what he did that day. But it still was disheartening. While other Soldiers were awarded for their courageous acts, Waterbury was not. For one reason or another, the record of his actions had slipped through the cracks.
Then in 2007, three weeks after her husband's funeral, Christi decided to take the information she had about the incident to the command at Fort Riley. It was confirmed and from that point on, Fort Riley officials set out to make things right.
"I just believe in fighting for what you deserve. He was a fighter," Christi said about her husband. "These guys need to be appreciated. They put their lives on the line 365 days out of the year for us. This is not just for my husband-it is for all the Soldiers. We now have over 4,000 Families that feel the way that I do every day."
The last year has been somewhat of a "hazy blur" according to Christi, who said things are beginning to return to normal. She still retains her husband's memory-a room in her home is filled with his military awards and accomplishments and his tombstone bares remnants of the military that he loved. She remembers how carefree her husband was and how he always loved to make people laugh.
"I miss him all around-every day. Everybody liked him. You couldn't not like him," she said.
And, she still remembers the last day she saw her husband alive.
It was Valentine's Day 2007, and, after an 18-day stay at Fort Stewart, Ga., Christi was heading home to Kansas and John was heading to Iraq.
After the couple said their goodbyes, Christi made her way through the crowded airport to board her plane, with her hands full of flowers and a balloon Waterbury had given her. When she received a call on her cell phone, she became a little annoyed having to juggle everything in her hands to answer it. But then Christi heard a familiar voice on the other end and realized it was Waterbury. He told her to turn around.
As she did, she came face-to-face with her husband-just a window of glass separating the two of them. He had made his way through the airport for one last goodbye.
In her mind, Christi said she can still picture what he was wearing-a green American Eagle T-shirt, a hooded Aeropostale sweatshirt, jeans and white tennis shoes.
"He was talking and waving to me, and I started to cry. He said, 'Everything's going to be okay. I'll see you soon and I love you,'" she said. Exactly one month later, Waterbury was killed.
Making things right
At the award ceremony with her best friend, Nikki, and Wesley at her side, Christi seemed in good spirits-happy her husband was getting the recognition he deserved.
"It was an honor being married to him," she said. "Even though I had him for just two years, some people don't even experience that in their lives-the happiness. I guess I try to hold onto that."
Christi thanked the Soldiers present and told them she still strongly supported the military.
"I believe in every single one of you," she said. "I wish we could bring everyone home and no one else had to feel like my Family and others do. But my husband always told me, 'What we're doing over there is a good thing.' I still support all of you 100 percent."
Before the citation was read, Durbin told those in attendance to listen intently and understand what a hero Wesley's dad was-a great Soldier who demonstrated great courage every day he served.
"There is a lesson to be learned for all of us," Durbin said. "Everybody in this room needs to remember today because two years later, we're doing right. We have a Soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice and a young lady with a lot of powerful grace, who reminded us that we can do right."
(Dena O'Dell writes for the "Fort Riley Post.")