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 bdean@opubco.com Published: March 25, 2013

Tommy's older brother also tried to move on quickly. He said it helped that he could lean on his fellow Marines.

“I had small children,” he said. “I could not go into a long depressing funk and still be a good dad to them.”

The loss was tougher on the boys' mother. Nancy and Al Blair Jr. divorced when Tommy was 4. Al Blair moved to Arkansas while Nancy stayed in Broken Arrow.

Al Blair III said he did his best to protect his mother. He handled media calls and acted as a family representative whenever he could. Nancy Blair declined to be interviewed for this story.

“I was coping differently than she did,” he said. “It can be difficult. She didn't understand how I was handling it. I had some difficulty understanding where she was coming from on some things. You just have to come to a middle point and accept that everyone is going to handle things a little differently.”

A Reserve detachment of Marines in Broken Arrow helped tremendously, Al Blair III said. They adopted Nancy Blair, looking out for her and offering support at every turn. She still brings them cookies from time to time.

“Being around other Marines kind of helped her a little bit,” he said. “You have to surround yourself with people you care about.”

Trying to save lives

Getting answers about what happened to Tommy Blair also helped, family members said.

The Marines sent Al Blair Jr. two binders full of pictures and other evidence detailing what happened that day.

A forward air controller mistakenly believed the enemy had taken over the armored vehicle that Blair loaded the wounded Marines into. He called in an air strike.

No one knows for certain whether Blair or the other Marines were alive when the Maverick missile blew up the vehicle. It also was hit by tremendous enemy fire, which Al Blair Jr. said he thinks took his son's life before the friendly fire incident.

Both father and brother said they don't blame the forward air-controller faulted in the report.

“If I were to meet him, I would probably shake his hand and give him a hug,” Al Blair III said. “I cannot fault him for doing what he did. He was trying to save lives. They were against a much larger force.”

Holding on

Making peace or moving on doesn't mean forgetting. Al Blair III keeps Tommy's dog tags in his breast pocket when he attends any function in his dress blues.

Al Blair Jr. is never far from a reminder of his younger son, whether it is the pictures that cover the walls of his home or the banner on his front door with two stars — a blue one representing Al Blair III and a gold one representing Tommy.

“I catch myself remembering I need to not spend so much time dwelling on Tommy's loss and remember I still have a son,” Al Blair Jr. said. “The whole world is not gone.”



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