Brother of First Pennsylvania National Guardsman Killed in Combat in 60 years Speaks at Camp Casey

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We hear from Dante Zappala, whose brother, Sherwood Baker, was killed in Iraq in 2004. He was the first member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to die in combat since 1945. [includes rush transcript]

Dante Zappala is the adoptive brother of Sherwood Baker. He said at Camp Casey on Saturday, “My brother was never silent. He was always a loud and proud person who stood up for what was right and that’s why I’m here.”

  • Dante Zappala, his brother Sherwood Baker was killed in Iraq.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue with the voices of Camp Casey, turning now to Dante Zappala. His brother, Sherwood Baker, was killed in Iraq in 2004. He was the first member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to die in combat since 1945.

DANTE ZAPPALA: People have been asking me why I came to Texas. I was down here last week on Tuesday. I felt like I just had to be here, and then I had to go back to work last week, and I came back again yesterday. And when I came back, I really felt like I was at home. This place is really beginning to feel like a second home. And I just want to take — the first part of what I’m going to say here is just to recognize you all for coming out. So if you can just give yourselves a round of applause. I really appreciate you all being here. It means — I hope you know what it means to the military families and the Gold Star families that are here to have so many people come out and support.

I came to Texas, the answer to that question, why I came to Texas. I came to Texas to tell a story. And I’ll tell you that story. Sherwood Baker was 13 months old. He was abandoned by his birth parents. And my parents decided to take him in as their child. A year later, I was born, and two years after that, my younger brother was born. And that’s how a family was made. Sherwood was always a very big kid. He stood up for what was right. He always protected me. And I certainly needed it. He had a child when he was young. He was 21 years old, he was still in college. And he was never going to let what happened to him as a young child, the uncertainty and the unpredictability, he was never going to let that happen to his kid. And so he became the most amazing father. He was such a role model for me and for his child.

He joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1997 to serve his community, to pay off his college loans for sure, to give something back. He was never bitter about his circumstances. Even though so much had been taken from him at a young age, he felt very fortunate and blessed, and he wanted to give that back. And so, he gave that back through military service to his community through the National Guard.

At the beginning of 2004, he was called up to go to Iraq. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and I came back in February of 2004. And on my shirt here is a picture of my family, the last time that we were all together. This is my wife and my younger brother, my mom, me, my nephew, who is ten years old now, and just such a big, gentle giant like his father, Sherwood, and Sherwood’s wife, Deborah. And here we are laughing and smiling and flashing peace signs and goofing around like we always did.

A month later he was in Baghdad, and he was working for the Iraq Survey Group. He was on site security for the Iraq Survey Group. And if you remember, the Iraq Survey Group was looking for weapons of mass destruction. This was after Hans Blix had said they weren’t there. This is after David Kaye had returned, said they weren’t there and he wasn’t going to find them. This was even after George Bush at his press ball a month earlier had made a big joke about it. You probably remember that. He was looking under the lectern, and they had these staged photographs, and it was really funny that he couldn’t find weapons of mass destruction, but it wasn’t funny to my brother, because he was still looking for them.

The last email I got from him, he wrote to say that he needed food. They were not getting the supplies to the camp, and they were on rations. They were getting one M.R.E. a day and three bottles of water, 100-plus degrees heat in the desert. On April 26, he was on perimeter security on a building that soldiers were inspecting for weapons of mass destruction. He was perched on top of his Humvee, his back to the building looking out for his soldiers, the way he looked out for my whole life, and that building exploded from behind him. And he was struck in the back of the head, and he was killed. We buried Sherwood, and my mother stood by his coffin and said “I will not be silent.” And so, we took that as a call, as my brother was never silent. He was always a loud and proud person who stood up for what was right, and that’s why I’m here in Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: Dante Zappala, his brother, Sherwood Baker, was killed in Iraq last year. He is the first Pennsylvania Army National Guardsman to die in 60 years, speaking on Saturday night at Camp Casey.

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