By Mary Kate Lau, SDA Digital Communications Intern
According to the Washington Post, 6,750 United States service members have died during Operation Iraqi freedom.
It’s easy to look at that and just see a four digit number. But there are 6,750 lives in that number. Brothers, mothers, sisters, sons, best friends. 6,750 first kisses. 6,750 people just like you, who’ve waited in line for a crowded bathroom, been stuck in endless traffic on a Friday afternoon. 6,750 Facebook profiles with embarrassing wall posts from Grandma. 6,750 who will never Instagram another sunrise. 6,750 stories to tell. Here is one of them.
Bob and Beth Pearson have had ASU football season tickets since 1982.
“We’ve suffered through some tough years,” Bob joked.
Both alums themselves, the Pearsons exposed their kids to ASU football early and often. The love for the Sun Devils was strongly evident in their oldest, Brice., who began coming with them to all the games when he was just eight years old.
As diehards do, they would even sometimes travel to away games. They bought an ASU flag to take with them for the matchup at San Diego State in 2002, or as Bob called it, “Andrew Walter’s coming out party.” The gold canvas flag was declared a good luck charm and accompanied the family until 2006.
By that time, Brice was 31. He had gone to ASU himself, majoring in English literature.
“He is the only person I know who could read several novels at once,” Beth beamed. He graduated in 2004, or so he thought. He received a letter a few months later telling him he was short in upper division credits. With that, he decided to join the army.
As he packed up his things in August of 2006, set to deploy to Iraq, he felt he needed to take a little maroon and gold with him. The lucky flag with “ASU” in huge lettering was just the thing.
It was winter of that year when Brice took the liberty of making some decorating adjustments at Forward Operating Base Caldwell, letting that storied flag fly overhead for all to enjoy.
“He was very proud,” Beth said.
Back home in the valley, Beth and Bob still bought three season tickets, not wanting to lose Brice’s seat.
His commanding officers, who went to schools in Texas and Nebraska that will remain nameless, gave Brice extra duties for his flag waving antics, but it didn’t matter to him.
It flew valiantly in the hot, dusty, Iraqi terrain until the day his parents received it in a box, along with the rest of their son’s belongings.
Sergeant Brice Pearson was killed in As’Sudah when a makeshift bomb took out most of his team on April 23, 2007.
This year, that flag was neatly folded into a large manila envelope with a letter and put in the mail for Head Football Coach Todd Graham.
“Graham seems to have brought back a lot of the great traditions at ASU. I equate him with (Bruce) Snyder and (Frank) Kush,” Bob said, when asked why he wanted the head football coach to have it.
“The special place our armed forces hold in the hearts of the ASU community is something that stood out to me from the moment I stepped on campus,” coach Graham said, “Brice’s ultimate sacrifice, and the sacrifices made by all veterans, allows me to continue to teach and do what I love most. And for that I am eternally humbled and grateful.”
“We are offering you this flag, with all its tradition and meaning to us and Brice because we feel the tradition at ASU has been revived,” Bob said in the letter. “Use it as you see fit.”
Part of the way it will be used is during a special moment of silence for the service men and women who have lost their lives before Saturday’s game against Oregon State.
“We’re so excited to have Brice honored by ASU because it would mean so much to him,” Beth said. “We know he would love it.”
They are now five years removed from their son’s death, and they know there are families who have gotten that knock on the door much more recently than them who really need that moment of silence. Specifically, another ASU alum, 1st Lieutenant Jonam Russell, killed in Afghanistan this July.
“The first few years, anything helps. How do I explain this,” Bob started off. “It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t make you feel better, but it’s a moment when you feel like he wasn’t forgotten.”
“It means more to families than people really realize,” Beth added.
After the moment of silence on Saturday, the Pearsons will go back to their seats in the south end zone, and an empty seat next to them that will always belong to Brice.