A thin line of dark mud shines in the sunlight, the only hint of water in the middle of a desert village in Afghanistan. At first it’s quiet, and in the distance two soldiers can be seen making their way into a wide, empty space between the mud huts. Gunshots begin to ring out, and the barrel of an automatic rifle rises up as the soldier carrying the camera peeks around a crude wall and shoots back.
The soldier firing is Spc. James T. Wickliffchacin, of Edmond. He yells at the two soldiers in the distance to stop, but they don’t hear him, and one of them falls to the sand after taking a bullet. Wickliffchacin fires again before running to their aid and helping drag the wounded soldier to safety.
Over the course of several months serving on the front lines of the war, Wickliffchacin shot more than 300 videos, including a daily journal, said Thomas Wickliff, Wickliffchacin’s father. He found the videos on his son’s computer, which was returned to him by the Army after his son’s death in September.
“He made a journal every day. Every day,” said Wickliff.
The videos show a wide spectrum of a soldier’s life in Afghanistan, including Wickliffchacin joking with comrades, talking candidly about long days in the desert, and talking to children in Afghan villages.
Wickliffchacin died Sept. 20 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio after being injured Aug. 12 in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan.
Wickliff said the injuries from the bombing were survivable, but his son contracted a fungal infection that spread voraciously.
Through multiple surgeries, doctors removed Wickliffchacin’s legs and part of his pelvis in an effort to stop the infection from spreading. Wickliffchacin had also contracted pneumonia, and doctors eventually said he could not handle any more surgeries.
“I had to tell my son he wasn't going to make it, that there was nothing they could do,” Wickliff told The Oklahoman in September.
As Wickliffchacin lay dying on his hospital bed, barely able to speak, he asked his father to take special care of the videos. Wickliff promised his son that he would.
When he finally received his son’s computer from the Army it was wiped clean, but that didn’t stop him. Wickliff, put his computer skills to the test, and he said he was able to locate the videos in the hard drive and restore them.
Wickliff, who describes his son as his best friend, said watching the videos taught him more than he ever knew about his son and the pride he felt serving in the Army. He said watching them made him love his son even more.
Wickliffchacin spent the better part of his childhood in Venezuela, and even there he felt a strong desire to join the military, said Wickliff. That desire only intensified when the family moved to the U.S.
“He felt very proud, because he would tell me ‘I will enroll in the best army in the world … Here, in this army, I will have the opportunity to make a difference,’” Wickliff said.
Wickliffchacin was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal of Valor.
Wickliff has tried to raise awareness about the fungal infection that killed his son and stays in touch with the families of other soldiers suffering from the same affliction. He said not every case is fatal, and he will continue to do what he can to help them.
“I feel like those soldiers are my sons,” Wickliff said.
In all, two Oklahoma soldiers who fought in Afghanistan died in the last year. Four died the previous year.
Spc. Robert Allan Pierce, 20, of Panama, died June 3 after his unit was attacked by a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in Tsamkani, Afghanistan, according to a Fort Campbell release. Another soldier, 2nd Lt. Justin L. Sisson, 23, of Phoenix, also was killed in the attack.
Attempts to reach Pierce’s family were unsuccessful.
Pierce joined the Army in April 2011, serving in South Korea before arriving at Fort Campbell in August 2012. His Army awards include a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, according to the military's news release.
“He felt very proud, because he would tell me ‘I will enroll in the best army in the world … Here, in this army, I will have the opportunity to make a difference.’”