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One family, two sacrifices: In a war few Americans fought, the Wise family would pay an awful price | Washington Post

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At the Pentagon, the name inside the casualty folder marked with the big blue “X” looked familiar to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and his chief of staff, Jeremy Bash. A Green Beret named Wise from Arkansas? He had to be another Wise son — a realization that startled Panetta, who’d been CIA director when Jeremy Wise was killed, and stunned others, too.

“Oh, God,” Marine Commandant Gen. James F. Amos remembers when he was told by an aide that Ben was the second Wise brother to die in Afghanistan. “It took my breath away.” He wrote the family a letter of condolence, as did then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus and Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland Jr., then the commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

The Wises are not the only family to lose two children in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts that have cost almost 6,800 U.S. military and civilian lives. At least five other families have endured the deaths of two sons, according to a Defense Department tally, though only three have been identified in media reports. The Hubbards, from California, buried two brothers who died in Iraq, one in a 2004 roadside-bomb explosion and the other in a 2007 helicopter crash. The Westbrooks, from New Mexico, lost one son to a bomb in Iraq in 2005 and another to insurgent fire in Afghanistan in 2009. The Velezes, from Texas, mourned one son killed by enemy fire in Iraq in 2004 and another who shot himself in Afghanistan in 2006.

Panetta’s letter

signed_letters.jpg&w=1040Click to read letters written by Leon Panetta, David Petraeus and others.

After Ben’s death, Panetta called Mary and added a personal note to the Pentagon’s formal letter: “I am so very lost in the emotion of losing another son of yours to combat. As the father of 3 sons, I cannot imagine the pain you must be feeling. And yet, I know that like Jeremy, Ben was doing what he wanted — to fight for all of us. He is a true American hero and patriot. God bless him and you.”

It is hard to read these letters.