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Service & Sacrifice: East Tennessee dad loses 'second son'

9:53 PM, May 2, 2013   |    comments
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A shooting during a recent scuffle at a restaurant ended in the death of a war veteran who not only served his country, but who came to the aid an East Tennessee father coping with the loss of his military son in combat.

"We'd grown a bond you know," said Don Fitzgibbon, who lost his 19-year-old son Patrick to a bomb blast in Afghanistan back in 2009.

The Army sent in a casualty assistance officer after Patrick's death to help the Fitzgibbon family make funeral plans, arrange benefits, and tackle the difficult questions that come when any family loses a loved one in battle overseas. The name of that casualty assistance officer was Mario Wilson.

"It was just like when he walked in he was part of the family and always had been," said Mr. Fitzgibbon, recalling how quickly he and then Staff Sergeant Wilson grew to know each other.

"He told me stuff he wouldn't normally tell other people and me and him discussed things I wouldn't tell (other) people," said Mr. Fitzgibbon.

Casualty assistance officers typically finish their duty to families after a few months. But Mr. Wilson and Mr. Fitzgibbon kept up their connection for the last three-and-a-half years. They talked two to three times a month, shared holidays together, and spoke a few days before Mr. Wilson was killed.

"I feel like I've lost another child," said Mr. Fitzgibbon.

Mr. Wilson was having breakfast with his fiancée and another couple on April 18th when witnesses say another patron exchanged words with the group. The verbal spat spilled into the parking lot of a Denny's in Indiana. One witness told reporters as Mr. Wilson was walking out of the restaurant door to calm down the instigator of the fight, that man pulled a gun and shot and killed him. The retired Army Sergeant First Class, who served in the military for more than 20 years, was buried earlier this week with military honors.

"He went through three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and he's killed at a Denny's," lamented Mr. Fitzgibbon with framed picture of his fallen son hanging on the wall just over his shoulder.

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