When his father deploys, 9-year-old Davidson considers himself “man of the house” — it’s a role he’s filled eight times.
Davidson’s father, Dave Whetstone — the surname is a pseudonym for security reasons — is a Green Beret currently on his 10th deployment. Dave has deployed nearly every year of Davidson’s life, and each time, Davidson “puts on a brave face,” he said.
To help other military families also be brave, the father and son duo recently published a children’s book, “Brave for my Family,” written by Davidson and illustrated by Dave, with some proceeds going to military charities.
The book was released on Veterans Day under pen names to protect their identities, and recounts the family’s experience with one of Dave’s deployments after a life-threatening battlefield injury, recovery, and Dave’s return to war — all through Davidson’s eyes.
While deployed, Dave tries to stay in touch with his family, he said. In the past, he’s recorded videos of himself — reading bedtime stories, praying, etc. — for his wife, Elizabeth, to replay for their children.
“While Americans are grateful for the sacrifices service members make for our country, it’s the sacrifices they don’t see that are the hardest,” Dave wrote in an email.
Story behind the story
While deployed to Afghanistan in late 2013 — four days shy of Christmas — Dave was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
During the explosion, shrapnel pierced the Green Beret’s face and tore through the right side of his body. It missed his carotid artery by a few millimeters.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the Whetstones were with family over the holidays and carried on with their lives, unaware the patriarch of their family was fighting for his.
After the blast, the Special Forces officer suffered life-threatening injuries. He was triaged on the battlefield, and subsequently airlifted to Germany and briefly hospitalized there.
From Germany, Dave returned to the United States and underwent multiple surgeries at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he eventually stayed for three-weeks.
Once the Whetstones received the terrible news, they also flew to Washington, D.C., and were reunited with their Soldier on Christmas, Davidson said.
Davidson — who was 3 years old at the time — writes about this moment in the book.
“My mom cried, and I was pretty scared my dad was going to die,” he wrote.
In the book, Dave’s illustration depicts this moment, too. The wounded Soldier is in the hospital — he’s battered, with multiple wounds and bandages — but embraced his son.
To this day, the illustration is hard for Elizabeth to see without reliving the memory, she said, because the artwork looks so real.
Also on Christmas day that year, Dave and his family were greeted by then-Vice President Joe Biden. The former VP, who visited wounded troops and their families at the hospital, invited the Whetstones to his home for lunch — an offer they took him up on the following year.
As he recovered, Dave learned his close friend — while also deployed in Afghanistan — was killed in combat. Although he was on convalescent leave, Dave requested special permission to return to Afghanistan and complete his deployment.
The blast claimed the peripheral vision from his right eye, and left parts of the shrapnel lodged in his body. However, Dave doesn’t believe the scars of war are the most painful thing a Soldier can experience.
“I have been wounded in combat, I have lost close friends,” Dave wrote. “But, for me some of the toughest pills to swallow are not being there for first words, first steps, first Christmases, first birthdays, and all of the moments that I’ll never see again. The hardest thing is watching my kids grow up in pictures.”
Father, son share their story
Years later — during the summer before Davidson started school — the father and son duo started the foundation for their book. Together, they decided to produce something “that could help kids not be scared if their parents deploy,” Davidson said.
“I know what it’s like to have your dad deployed to a scary place,” Davidson added.
For nearly two years, and in-between deployments, the pair would spend the Sunday afternoons they had, usually after church, being creative together, Elizabeth said.
“Creating the book was therapeutic for them both,” she added.
For Dave, drawing is a way to organize his thoughts, and a passion that dates back to childhood, he said.
“Illustrating Davidson’s story gave me a strong motivation to create meaningful representation of our family’s sacrifice and courage,” Dave wrote. “It also allowed me to spend time recalling and appreciating the details of our family’s experience, and come to terms with some things.”
Part of the proceeds from the book will go toward charities like the Green Beret Foundation and help support military families and wounded warriors.
“I can’t express how proud I am of my family, and how immeasurably blessed I am to have each of them in my life,” Dave wrote. “I am so proud of Davidson for writing this book. But, if I’m being honest, this is only a snapshot of his talents and passion as a good young man.”