Lila’s son Michael was 26 when he was killed in Iraq. Lila shared her story with filmmaker Michael Moore and became a central character in Fahrenheit 9/11. She spoke recently at the national convention of Peace Action. [includes rush transcript]
One of the stars of Michael Moore’s new film Fahrenheit 9/11 is now the subject of a Marine Corps investigation and could face court-martial. Lance Corporal Abdul Henderson told Moore in the film he would not return with his unit to fight in Iraq. USA Today revealed last week that the Marine Corps is conducting a preliminary inquiry into Henderson’s appearance in Fahrenheit 9/11. A Marine spokesperson says if he refuses to return to Iraq, he could face prison. Meanwhile, another person featured in the film, Lila Lipscomb, has been travelling across the country speaking to antiwar groups, community groups and churches. Lipscomb’s 26 year old son Michael was killed in Iraq. She spoke recently at the national convention of Peace Action in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- Lila Lipscomb
LILA LIPSCOMB: It’s still a really hard scene for me. When I hear my son saying he can’t wait to come home, my son came home in a body tube. The last count, so if it’s not right, don’t quote me. It’s 885 mothers that stand before you tonight on the stage, asking the same questions. Why? I don’t write speeches because I don’t like to try to read and remember. And I don’t think that I need to have a speech because i lived this. Christmas of 2002 was the last time I saw my son alive. My family was together, and shortly after January, he told me that when he went back home to Savannah, he was being deployed to Kuwait with specific instructions of going to Baghdad. If any of you remember anything, there was nothing said anywhere in the United States at that time about going over to Kuwait or Baghdad or anything. He asked me not to tell anybody. That was the first time in his seven years of military career that he ever spoke those words to me. You see, my son was a seasoned soldier. He wasn’t just one of the young kids going in the military today and after AIT. Being shipped to Kuwait or Baghdad and being killed. My son was a lifetime career soldier. When he was 19 years old, he made the decision to go into the united states military because — Pops and I didn’t have the money to send him to cool school. I suffer today still. We have a 21-year-old daughter that is struggling to get her life together because her oldest brother is dead. I cannot afford to send her to school. We just got word that apparently there’s some new law now that I’m trying to investigate where you can actually only take $2,600 a semester now on student loans because my kids fall through the cracks. We don’t qualify for financial aid. There’s millions of children in the United States falling through the cracks. Many times the only option is they have is the military. I come from a very long, long line of military people. My family has never been rich. We have never had the option of college. When I was growing up, the biggest thing that my mother could have me do was to finish high school. And in my family, that was a great accomplishment. I was determined that I was going to see a way different for my children. And I did encourage my children to go into the military, because I come from a long line of service and duty to this United States of America. I believe in this country. I do wave my flag every single day.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good for you.
LILA LIPSCOMB: I wear my flag on my lapel every single day. I believe that when I cast my vote, it is not out of ignorance. But I have to say that in the past, what I have gone in to make my vote, I literally just put something because i saw their name on TV. My son is dead. I will never go to the polls ignorant again. (applause)
We have a daughter that’s 31, and she’s in the navy. She went through the entire high school —- she finished in three-and-a-half years and she was in junior ROTC for three-and-a-half years. She graduated in December, and for six months prior to her graduation, her father and I struggled deeply because we knew she wanted to go into the navy. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of all of her ancestors, and she was good at it. But if you remember, back in the early 1990’s, in the navy was not a good time for the young women of America. And I struggled deeply with my child going in and being raped and abused. But my child is a strong-headed as her mother. She backed me against the wall. So, in January, with her barely turning 17 in November, I signed the papers so she could go into the navy. She was in desert storm. I have the same yellow ribbons on my porch. I flew the same flag on my front porch and I said the very same prayers. God, please protect my child and bring her home. And he did. How could I know send years later, that I would have the same flag flying and the same yellow ribbons on my porch, and saying the same prayers? The only difference was I had a United States army sergeant standing in my home asking me was I the mother of Sergeant Michael f. Patterson? The United States Secretary of Defense regretfully informs you—-and that’s all I remember. A few months later, my mind started coming back to me, and my children talked to me today about the wail that they heard from my mother that pierced their soul, and they will never, ever forget that sound. God protected me from that, because the only words that i hear is the United States military regretfully informs you. My son did not come home. My prayers were not answered. Shortly after, my son was killed our other son, Howard junior, had been a firefighter for many years and it was something that he had just absolutely adored. I believe in school to work programs. I believe in teaching our children there’s many different ways. Not all of us are meant to the president of the United States of America. So, when he wanted to be a junior firefighter, I was elated. Another service. This was the good thing. After his brother was killed, I was in my bedroom upstairs trying to get dressed, and I was so angry at myself, I had one leg in my pants and I couldn’t put the other leg in. A strong woman stands trying to get dressed and she didn’t dress herself, there’s something wrong. All of a sudden, all of the fire sirens started going off in front of my home. My house was rattling and shaking from the sirens pounding through my home. I could not get dressed and I was struggling and I fell to the floor and i finally got my pants on and I ran out of my bedroom doors and my husband ran up the stairs. It’s okay. Calm counsel. I’m screaming, what is going on? My god, what is going on. They took my child. What is going on? And that’s when he told me that the entire fire department had come to my home to pay homage to our youngest son, Howard Jr., and were dedicating this, because his he had given his life for this country. April 2 is not a dream to me. The words Blackhawk Down is not a movie to me. At Christmas time when my son was home. We were in the hallway talking, I had asked him, because I always — he was a helicopter mechanic and that was okay with me, I am thinking, helicopter mechanics, you stay on the ground. Not. He said, mom, if you really, really want to know what I did, just watch the movie, Blackhawk Down. I haven’t been able to. I bought it. I hoped that this would help me get closer to him. The plastic is still on it. Can’t do it yet. Couple of years before i was sitting in the movie theater with Pops and our youngest daughter, Lorene. The commercials came on, the advertisement, the movie things. And there was an advertisement for Blackhawk Down. I didn’t know what that meant, and i cried the entire two minutes. Pops was saying, what’s wrong with you? What’s wrong? Are you okay? Are you okay? My baby girl was saying, mom, come on, what’s up? I didn’t know what that was. I stand before you today and tell you that it was my soul that knew my son was going to leave me in a helicopter crash. And my god was trying to prepare me back then for the tremendous blow that was getting ready to kick the life out of me. Because when you hear those words and someone tells you that your child is dead, your entire being stops. You think about a mule kicking you in the gut and the very life leaving you. That’s what happened. It takes a long time to come back, and I wasn’t even beginning to think that I was on a journey, and i kept hearing people say it, gets better, it gets better. Mine wasn’t getting better.
Michael Moore contacted us in December of 2003. He started paying attention because he’s from the Flint area of how many soldiers were dying from Michigan. And it was eating at his eating at his soul. One of his staff people had found that my family was in Newsweek magazine for the 9/11 Anniversary Edition. His office contacted us and asked us if he could come talk to us about our son. I had no hesitations whatsoever because I’m still searching for a way to get through my grieving and to be able to put one foot in front of the other. If Michael had not come to my home, I don’t know where I would be. A dear friend of mine who happens to be my boss was there when I got the call asking me to come home, was there when they told me about my son, and picked me up off of the floor more than once because i just can’t take another step. She always asks me, what is it, Lila, that you need? What do you need? My only response is I need to keep going. I can’t stop. Because I know if I stop, I will literally be under the bed, and not be able to come out anymore. When Michael came to my home and I read that letter to him from my son, it brought sense to me. One of the quotes from Billy Graham says—- sorry, pops. I just drew a blank. “Courage is contagious, and if word strong spine stands, it helps other spines to be strengthened.” I applaud Michael Moore for being so courageous. If it wasn’t for his vision — this would not be here. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about Michael, but there’s one thing that they can never say about him. They can never say that he’s a liar. Ever. And by him giving me just a little bit of strength, my son words began to come back and haunt me, and I knew that I had to do something. My nephew, I got word that he graduated last year — well, this year in June. And he wanted to go in the army like his Uncle Michael. And he went. Could I discourage him? No. Because I have a clear understanding that the United States military is what helped my son achieve what he achieved in life. And it helped him to achieve being the soldier that’s going to wake up America. (applause) Sorry. I keep looking at that face back there. Then I see a vision of my son and going — yeah, mom. My son was very quiet. He’s very reserved, yet he was just a prankster. He was just the ordinary guy next door. He always thought about things. And I started to become very alarmed because when he told me he was going to Baghdad, he shared with me that he was afraid. And as a mother, you have conversations with your child explaining to them that sometimes a little bit of fear is a good thing. It keeps your mind sharp. You don’t become lax when you have a little bit of fear. I didn’t know my son felt that he wasn’t going to come home. Mothers don’t allow themselves those kinds of thoughts. My son took many steps in preparation to make sure that when he left this earth, that he had gone full circle to the point of even at Christmas time when he was at home, going and finding some of his old high school friends that he had maybe had arguments with and literally hugging them so that they could each forgive each other, that my son know he wasn’t coming home. Today, I stand before you and say yeah, he knew. I had found out not long ago that my son wasn’t even supposed to be on that flight that night. There was a soldier that was scheduled to fly and apparently he wasn’t up to par. That just speaks of my son. He volunteered to take the mission, so the other soldier could rest. That speaks highly of my child. Because that’s just what his mother would have done. That’s what comradery is all about. I pray one day I’ll be able to meet that soldier, because god knows i don’t want him carrying anything with him. He has dealt with enough in his lifetime just being in Iraq. So, if anybody knows him, this mom is lacking for him. I know God will bring him to me.
Being in the movie has completely changed my life. But the best thing of all is that it’s brought my family back to me. See, because when people grieve, you grieve in different ways. Not only did we lose our oldest son, but we were beginning to lose our oldest daughter. She began suffering traumatically from survivor guilt because she knows that her little brother used to tell her, if I can do it, so can I. She was in Guam during desert storm, by God’s grace, pregnant with my oldest granddaughter. She didn’t have to go over there but she dealt with the Agent Orange and soldiers coming and going, so this last year has been very traumatic for my family. Our son, Howard Jr., his wife gave birth to my first grandson. We had all girls, and it was exciting to have a boy finally. He was born on February 20, 2003 my son, Michael, 26th birthday. He was so proud that his first nephew was born on his birthday. We were going to send him pictures in the last letter that I got from him, where he says, tell Sputnik, congrats. We know that he saw the pictures of his first nephew. I believe with everything that I am that he had the pictures close to his heart who when he died that night. So, His first nephew has to grow up without him and that’s not a very easy thing. Howard jr. has struggled much. He is doing the best that he can do to be the best daddy to his little boys because his brother, Michael was best daddy to his daughter, Destiny. Michael set an example, and he is working hard to follow that example, but he struggles, though, because Michael was his best friend. Pops and i just aren’t the same. Our youngest daughter, Lorene has severe panic attacks. She gets held in bondages of fear. But she’ll be okay. We serve and awesome God and My God has promised me that he would take care of us. Pops has just been absolutely tremendous. I don’t doubt anybody’s sorrow or pain in losing a brother or sister or a child, but it’s different for a mom. You don’t carry a child in your womb for nine months, nurse that child and raise that child and then have to bury that child. It’s out of sync. I have a pact with my family with God, that none of them can die before me.