Child Soldiers:
A Tale Of Two Roys


Were we really so young? I’m the skinny guy with the big ears.

We were, in retrospect, such children. We were souped-up teenagers called upon to do exceptionally grownup things. There’s a reason 19-year-olds make the best soldiers. They’ve not yet become jaded by the relentless grinding ambiguity of the world. Life was clearer, somehow cleaner back then.

What we did seemed so important at the time. It was more important than our families. It was more important than our lives. We would have gone anywhere and done anything if this is what our country required. That’s quite the dangerous state of being.

Two Roys

I’ve been privileged to know two men named Roy well. One is my boss here at Handgunner. He saw something in me when others didn’t, so here we are today. The other was a tall Nordic-looking guy from Minnesota who was an unrepentant patriot.

One night Roy and I were out on an Observation Post at 0200 — an invariably tedious task. We whiled away the evening speaking in whispered tones about home, God, girls and life. That night Roy explained something deep and powerful to me.

This is a soldier’s Oath of Office: “I, Willis N. Dabbs, do hereby solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same …” There’s more, but that’s the really important bit.

“I recall his words when I see
entitled multimillionaire athletes
arrogantly disrespecting my nation’s flag.”

Roy explained we did not owe our allegiance to the country, to the government, or even to the American people. Our sworn loyalty was to that sacred document and to the immutable holy truth it represents. Roy’s words were articulate, passionate and powerful, the unfiltered ideology of a man utterly in love with his country.

Power Of Random

Much later Roy and I were grinding our way through flight school at Fort Rucker. The Army makes a show of caring about what you want, but they don’t really mean it. I am convinced they take those dream sheets we filled out asking for particular assignments, plaster them up on cardboard rolls and repurpose them as toilet paper in the Pentagon.

Roy got what I wanted, and I got what he wanted. We quickly put our heads together, struck a deal, and queried our commander about an amicable trade. He made a phone call. For reasons I still cannot fathom the Army said no. Roy and I both moped around for a bit but then headed our separate ways eager to go save the world in whatever capacity Uncle Sam felt best.

Months later one of my Warrant Officer buddies walked into my office with a copy of the Army Times, dropped it on my desk, and queried innocently, “Did you know this guy, sir?”

My breath caught in my throat. Just like that my friend Roy was gone. He was killed in a Cobra crash on the other side of the world less than a year after we finished flight school. He had been married nine months.

Something very bad occurred during a multi-ship NVG gunnery mission resulting in a mid-air collision. Roy’s crippled Snake impacted the side of a ridge inverted and burned. My friend was killed instantly, sitting in the very seat I had myself strived so vigorously to be in.

My friend Roy was piloting an AH-1S Cobra gunship like this one when he was killed. Photo: DOD

Deep Magic

It has been some three decades since that day. I have travelled far and wide, loved a beautiful woman, and successfully raised three incredible kids. I left the military for a career in medicine and along the way saved a few lives. God has richly blessed me beyond anything I deserved. By contrast, Roy’s wife was widowed before they even got started.

I still think of my friend Roy often. I recall his words when I see entitled multimillionaire athletes arrogantly disrespecting my nation’s flag. I think of him when public servants treat the U.S. Constitution, the most inspired piece of writing outside of Holy Scriptures, like some kind of impediment to be circumvented or ignored. They haven’t a clue the price that was paid so they could do those things. Young driven Americans like Roy love their country more than themselves. They are the best of us all.

Our loyalty was to something infinitely bigger, something that remains resolutely pure, holy and strong despite centuries of war, hardship and strife. We gun nerds prattle on about the Second Amendment, but even we fail often to appreciate what a profoundly precious thing that document represents.

My friend Roy understood this. He’s the one who explained it to me.