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10 years later: Family never far from reminders of first Oklahoman killed in Iraq War

Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Blair helped pull nine wounded Marines into an armored vehicle before enemy rocket-propelled grenades and a missile fired by a U.S. attack plane destroyed the vehicle. All those inside were killed.
BY BRYAN DEAN Published: March 25, 2013

Lance Cpl. Thomas A Blair died 10 years ago on a road in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Blair, 24, of Broken Arrow, was the first Oklahoman killed in the Iraq War. It took a yearlong investigation to unravel exactly what happened that day, but this much was never in doubt — Blair did his duty.

He helped pull nine wounded Marines into an armored vehicle before it was hit by at least four enemy rocket-propelled grenades and then obliterated by a missile fired from an American attack plane.

Ten years after Blair died, family members said they've made their peace with his death, but the sting of it never goes away.

“That is a piece of you that is gone,” said Gunnery Sgt. Al Blair III, his older brother. “It wasn't like a long-term illness or something. One day he is here, and the next he is gone. There really is never a getting used to that.”

First to volunteer

Al Blair Jr. was a Navy man. He expected his boys would be too. But the Navy recruiter who talked with his oldest son failed to impress, so the Marines won the commitment of Al Blair III.

Tommy followed his older brother when he graduated high school.

“The Marine uniform makes them look good,” Al Blair Jr. said recently as he sat in his home in Gravette, Ark., and looked at a photo of his two boys in their dress blues.

“I have always been in favor of military training. It helps young men get their heads on straight.”

The elder Blair never worried that Tommy might not come back when he shipped off to Kuwait before the war started.

He'd been in the Marines five years, re-enlisting after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was one of the first volunteers to go to Kuwait before the war started, his father said.

When military officials informed the family that Tommy was missing, Al Blair Jr. said he assumed his son was still alive.

“I thought he was hunkered down or something, maybe hiding out,” he said. “It never really did cross my mind that he had been killed.”

God's way of taking care of him

It took five days before his death was confirmed. A Marine and a chaplain came to Al Blair Jr.'s office to give him the news.

Blair got calls from governors and letters from across the country — schoolchildren offering their condolences.

“It helped me,” he said. “It made me feel good to know people cared. I would like it if more families got the consolation I got.”

Within a couple of weeks, Blair said he made peace with his son's death. Co-workers were surprised he returned so quickly, but Blair said he knew if he stayed at home, he would mope and dwell on Tommy's death.

Instead, he leaned on his faith.

“Before he left, I asked God to watch over him,” he said. “I came to the conclusion it was God's way of taking care of him.”

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