The father of a teenage soldier whose death in Iraq may have been caused by friendly fire said Thursday that learning this possibility was a blow, but said he would reserve judgment until the Army provides more details.
Thomas Epperson said he was originally told that his 18-year-old son, Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, and another soldier died Feb. 2 from enemy small arms fire in Ramadi, in western Iraq. On March 31, he said, Army officials came to his home and told him that his son may have been killed by a friendly tank shell.
“That put me right back into a fog,” said Epperson, 42, who lives in East Haven, Connecticut. “No one wants to lose a child, and to hear it’s friendly fire you have to relive it again.”
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Epperson said he is “trying to do the waiting game” as the Army finishes its investigation. He now flies an American flag at his home, along with a U.S. Army flag, and has pasted yellow letters on the trunk of his Black Volkswagen Jetta that spell his son’s name, birthday and date of death.
“I’m not going to hang nobody until I know for sure which way it is,” Epperson said. “I can’t ask questions until the investigation is closed.”
The Army said it is investigating the deaths of Zeimer, who lived in Glendive, Mont., and Spc. Alan E. McPeek, 20, of Tucson, Ariz., and that friendly fire may have been the cause.
Col. Daniel Baggio, an Army spokesman, said he could not say what killed the two men, and that Army officials gave their families “the best information they had at the time.”
Rose Doyle, McPeek’s mother, declined to discuss the latest development on Wednesday, saying, “Whatever I say isn’t going to bring my son back.”
McPeek, Zeimer and other soldiers came under attack by insurgents at their outpost in central Ramadi. A report in the Army Times newspaper said McPeek, 20, was about to leave Iraq and took Zeimer under his wing. The two soldiers ran to a roof to fight back, but a shot was fired through a concrete wall near them and the impact killed them.
Epperson said his son was deployed from Fort Stewart, Ga. in January and was at his post for about two hours before he was killed. His son had wanted to go into the military since he was young, Epperson said, and enlisted just before he graduated from high school last spring. He deployed to Iraq in January.
“It was a couple of days before he left that I talked to him last,” Epperson said. “I’ll never fully recover from it.”
Disclosures in Tillman case
Wednesday’s disclosure comes on the heels of the announcement last week that nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. The military found no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of the former NFL player.
Three other soldiers were wounded in the incident that killed Zeimer and McPeek. There has been no indication whether they were hit by friendly forces.
McPeek was a member of the 16th Engineer Battalion based in Germany, and Zeimer was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart.
According to the Army, as of the end of March, 21 soldiers have died as a result of friendly fire since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2002. Seven were killed in five separate incidents in Afghanistan, and 14 soldiers were killed in 10 separate incidents in the Iraq war, the Army said.