About midway down a CNN article Monday afternoon, it was stated, “On Sunday, another 101st Airborne Division soldier died in northwestern Mosul when a roadside bomb struck a convoy.” It sounded just like any of the other numerous reports about a solder’s death in Iraq, but this one was about a 2001 Creek graduate and former member of the HiLife staff, Ray Joseph Hutchinson.
The news came as a shock for me; it’s not everyday that you hear that someone from your school died fighting for your country. I never knew Ray personally, but his name came up often in the HiLife’s newsroom. I remember typing up his address in the military for our last issue so that students can send him letters, and I remember how Mrs. Jameson, our newspaper advisor, smiled whenever she talked about him. I was proud of the fact that someone I was connected with in such a way was serving for my country.
What struck me was the anonymity kept in the CNN article. When I read it, I felt that it had a “grave of the unknown soldier” ring to it. Everyday I hear about the deaths of soldiers in Iraq, but they seemed, like in this article, wholly unconnected to me, unreal because they are given only fractions of sentences and have no names.
While there was probably not much more a news article could have said about him with the little information that they had, it is a personal struggle to comprehend Ray’s death that makes the sentence in the article stand out. Ray went to the same school that I’m in. He spent time in the same newsroom that I’m in, and he probably typed on the same keyboard that I am tying on. He is not a nameless soldier; he is a student who will live on in our memories. Ray’s name was not released to the media until a sergeant from the Army had a chance to personally tell his family the news. Since his graduation, his parents had moved to Phoenix, Arizona, but were in Houston because his grandmother was in Methodist Hospital in critical condition and in need of emergency heart surgery. Ray was scheduled to come back to see her, but his squad leader was already in the States on emergency leave, and Ray was the only one he trusted to lead the squad in his place. Ray was killed on his last scheduled mission of his nine-month service in Iraq before he was due home.
The group of people from the Army did not have a current address of Ray’s parents, but they tracked down his mother to the hospital. Floor by floor, they searched the hospital until they found Ray’s mother. Ray’s older brother, Lee, received a call from his father, telling him to come to the hospital immediately. Lee was expecting news about his grandmother—something that he was prepared for. But instead his father told him that Ray had passed away.
Since the release of Ray’s name, our newsroom has been flooded with phone calls and e-mails from students who knew Ray. Mrs. Jameson tells us about how Ray always had a smile on his face and how he was always willing to help others out. She says that in the years she knew him, she’s never heard anyone say one bad word about him. “I’ve had eighteen- and nineteen-year-old boys calling me all day long, crying,” she said. “These people really care about each other.” Sitting here while Mrs. Jameson is on the phone with one of the past editors-in-chief of the newspaper, I feel like I am on the sidelines, watching a great hero being celebrated.
But Ray would not have wanted to be remembered as a hero, Lee told me. “He would have wanted to be remembered as a member of the infantry who served his country.”
Lee’s favorite memory of Ray is embodied in two pictures taken about thirteen years ago. The family was vacationing at the Grand Canyon, and the boys’ parents had left the hotel room to go to the store. There were two twin beds in the room, and each boy took a picture of the other jumping from one bed to the other. Lee says that he likes the picture because, “It captures in a second everything that Ray Joseph was—a smiling, happy guy.”
Four years ago, Ray took a picture of a portion of the Moving Vietnam Wall when it was in League City. The reflection of a soldier can be seen, black against the white names of the soldiers who died in combat. You get the sense that the soldier is not in the picture, but that he is standing where you are, facing it. This amazing photo spectacularly captures the how Ray will live on in this newsroom, and in the minds of so many people. He will always be in our presence, and he will always be remembered as a “Ray” of sunshine.
*Thanks to the Crimestoppers for starting off with a $1,000 contribution to the scholarship fund which will carry on Ray’s name forever. Thanks to Mrs. Jeanne Kregel, teacher and sponsor and Sgt.Pete Sifuentes and the Crimestoppers organization.
*Update:The HiLife raised over $50,000 and turned the scholarship over to Ray's parents. Find more information at http://rjhfoundation.org