BIG HUG FOR A FALLEN SON
FOR THOSE LEFT BEHIND, THE PAIN OF BATTLE STILL LINGERS MANY YEARS ON
IT was a moment of raw emotion. The grieving parents of an Australian soldier killed in action coming face to face with the medic who tried desperately to save him on an Afghan battlefield 9500km away.
“I didn’t know who to hug first, so I hugged both of them,” said Jonathan Walter, who was among the last people to see David and Mary McCarthy’s son Sean alive.
Sergeant Walter’s visit with the McCarthys at their Queensland home last month was a rare coming together of two worlds: the one of the elite medical soldiers who look after our special forces on the battlfield, and the other of families who care the most for the troops when they’re at home.
And it was a display of the humanity beyond the war zone of combat medics, even if the most they have to offer is some solace to the loved ones of those they nursed in their final moments.
“It’s a sad fact that when young men go to war, some die. You just hope it’s not yours,” said Peter Robinson, whose son Rowan was fatally shot by a Taliban sniper in 2011.
Robinson was one of three Australian soldiers from the Special Operations Command killed between May and July that year.
The McCarthys and the Robinsons have broken years of silence about their sons’’ ddeeaatthhss toto spspeeaakktotoNTewhes CDoariplyfoTreoleugrrsaeprhiefsorreovuear lsinegrieths eresvecerael-t winogrltdhe osfecraent weolirtled obfaannd eloitfe sboalnddieorsf ksonlodwienrs kans othwenVaosotdhoeoVMooedoicosM. edics.
Mary and David McCarthy didn’t even know their son was in Afghanistan until they were told he had been killed in action. The 25-year-old signaller would only tell them he was going away “on a job” due to the secret nature of his work with the SASR.
McCarthy was wounded when the patrol vehicle he was in set off a bomb hidden in the road on July 8, 2008. Walter tried desperately for 90 minutes to save his life, but his injuries proved unbeatable.
In three tours of Afghanistan, it was the only time a soldier had died in Walter’s hands. So when he was invited to the McCarthy’s home, he gratefully made the journey from his home in Tasmania.
When the 35-year-old new father arrived at their Toowoomba house —
which had been previously owned by Sean — he embraced them in the front yard with a bear hug as they said “good to see you” and “thank you”.
The hug was long, but their time together to chat over cups of tea and a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey, made especially for Sean, was too short.
It was “light talk” to start, about the weather and how they had both lived for a time in
Dubai. But as they relaxed, they were able to speak about
Sean’s life and untimely death.
The couple already knew how hard the medic had tried to save their first-born.
“They never gave up,” Mr McCarthy said. “We are forever grateful to John and all of those guys.” Walter said the meeting played “a huge part in closing that loop” on what was one of his most traumatic experiences.
“It’s reassuring to me that they know all of the treatment I’d done was correct and it’s reassuring for them as well. They know that in his last minute their son was well looked after.” Rowan Robinson was treated by another Voodoo Medic, Dr Dan Pronk, and his parents offered similar praise of his work.
Marie Robinson, a nurse, read the official autopsy into her son’s death.
“We know what Rowan’s injuries were and we know that there probably wasn’t a lot that Dan could do to save him. But he did his best,” she said.
“I know they did everything they possibly could to try to save Ro that day.”
Peter and Marie Robinson mourn the loss of their son Rowan (left) but praised the medic who tried to keep him alive.
The emotional moment Mary and David McCarthy met Jonathan Walter the medic who tried to save their wounded son Sean (right) and (below) the McCarthys with Walter. Picture: Gary Ramage.