I wired $1,000 to a woman in Iraq on New Year's Eve. I sent it to repay part of a debt that I, and my country, will always owe. As I looked down at the $100 bills, stacked in two piles on the counter of a Western Union in McLean, Va., I was overwhelmed by my inability to do more for this woman. There is no amount of money that can compensate a mother for the loss of her oldest son.
His name was Mohammed; we called him Roy to protect his identity while he accompanied my platoon of scouts and snipers on combat patrols in Baghdad from December 2006 to September 2007. Roy, a mere teenager at the time, was our interpreter and a highly skilled one. He questioned insurgent leaders we had captured; he served as my eyes and ears among the local population; he was like a younger brother to me and the scout team leader responsible for him. Roy died in a house bombing in Diyala province in January of 2008 along with six American soldiers from the platoon that replaced mine in Iraq. I cry every time I write that sentence, just like I cried the first time I spoke with his mom.
It wasn't easy to find her. After I first wrote about Roy in August 2010, I contacted several general officers, commanding officers from the unit that replaced us, the State Department, even an Army public affairs official in Baghdad, giving them Roy's name and the date of his death in the hope that someone might find a record with the family's contact information. It was all to no avail. I felt responsible to tell his mother how important Roy was to us; I wanted to tell her I was sorry.
After three months and no leads, I began to lose hope. But then a retired colonel, who contacted me after my essay "Remembering Roy" ran, was able to connect the dots. He knew a retired three-star general who had led the contracting firm that employed Roy as an interpreter while he served with my unit. On an early January morning nearly three years to the day since Roy was killed, I received an email containing the telephone number of Roy's mother.