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The Ultimate Price
Rick Reilly
October 02, 1995
It took his brother's death in combat to help fulfill Shaun Stephenson dream of playing football for Navy
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October 02, 1995

The Ultimate Price

It took his brother's death in combat to help fulfill Shaun Stephenson dream of playing football for Navy

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But then, suddenly, horribly, it was they who were lit up. A U.S. A-10 Warthog dropped a phosphorus flare next to the LAV that made it as visible in the night as a drive-in movie. "Those freakin' A-10s skylined us!" somebody screamed. Two guys in a missile carrier next to the LAV jumped out and tried to bury the flare, but it was like trying to bury an airport searchlight. In the LAV there was a sickening hush. Surely the Warthog pilot knew he'd made a mistake. Surely the boys had not just been marked as enemy by their own Air Force.

Seconds later another Warthog fired a U.S.-made Maverick missile—the tank killer, the missile designed to break the skin of a vehicle and then wreak hell inside, exploding like a grenade and releasing a hurricane of shrapnel, a thousand knives flung in all directions. Dion was sitting in the back of the LAV when the Maverick came flying through the back hatch. It hit and fragmented, churning, burning, severing limbs and heads and releasing a force so powerful that it blew off the closed and locked driver's hatch and sent Tull flying after it. Days later a military spokesman would have an explanation: "Friendly fire."

When Tull awoke, the LAV's tires were still on fire, and what was left of the 15-ton vehicle was still crackling and snapping. Tully couldn't feel his broken back or the second-and third-degree burns on his body or the sand under his hands. All he wanted to do was crawl back to the LAV. But every time he'd move, he'd pass out. Not that it mattered. The seven young guns inside The Blaze of Glory were dead.

God didn't bring Dion home, but Shaun did. Shaun spent Feb. 4, 1991, the day before his 20th birthday, flying his brother's remains home on the last leg of the trip from Saudi Arabia. He boarded a Delta jet, one his father had often worked on, in Dover, Del. Shaun's hands were still bruised from beating holy hell out of the C.O.'s locker onboard the USS Frederick. That was just after the C.O. had said, "Shaun, I've got some real bad news for you. Your brother was killed tonight." Shaun just threw tearless punches until his hands bled. This time, though, there would be no hugs afterward.

They pulled into the very ramp their father worked on at Salt Lake City International Airport. The Warrior did not come to greet them. "I could've never worked on that ramp again," Jim says. "Every time I stepped out there, I would've thought about D."

Shaun was driven up his own street, which was lined with scores of people holding candles and singing God Bless America. He walked up the stairs into his parents' room, where his mother refused to hug him. If you do not let Army chaplains into your house, they can't tell you your son is gone. And if you do not hug your grief-stricken other son, the grief can't exist. Shaun turned and bear-hugged the Warrior.

A week later the whole state threw Dion the biggest, slowest parade Salt Lake City had ever seen. Folks say that back at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, where the biggest bunch of flowers was from Schwarzenegger, cars were still pulling out of the parking lot and into the procession when the hearse arrived at the Bountiful cemetery, 15 minutes up the freeway. The governor cried that day, and flags across the state could only make it halfway up their poles, and elementary school crossing guards saluted as the funeral procession passed.

Even Gen. Alfred Gray, the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps, was there. He had flown back from the Persian Gulf to see one of his men buried. Afterward Shaun told him, "I want to go back. I want to go back and avenge my brother's death."

Geri just lowered her head. Gray said, "I'll see what I can do."

But the military usually doesn't send a man to a theater of war where a family member has been killed, so Shaun was assigned to recruit marines out of the office in Salt Lake City. "Kind of hard, you know?" Shaun says. "Trying to get a kid to sign up for a war where your brother just got killed."

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