A Simple Man:
The life and death of
The battle worn lines of Tom Titus's face tell the story of a man who's seen the back side of hell and lived to tell the tale. But, it's not the jungles of Vietnam that torment his nightmares, it's the memory of the morning two soldiers appeared at his door to inform him his son and hero, Brandon Titus, had been killed in Iraq.
"It's like someone reached down through my throat and put a vice grip on my heart. I couldn't breathe...I had to have the Chaplin write it down for me because I couldn't believe what they were telling me."
To those that knew him, Brandon Titus was more than a soldier who gave his life defending out freedom. Like the words to his favorite song by Lynard Skynard, Brandon was a "Simple Man."
He is remembered by those who knew him as a go-to kind of guy. He tutored his friends to help them get through school. He graduated from Borah High School, where he played football and served as the Sports Editor for the newspaper. After he graduated, he returned to Borah as a volunteer football coach before he left for the army.
After his service in the military, Brandon planned on attending Boise State to get his degree so he could return to Borah as a teacher and to continue to coach football there. Brandon was also a youth mentor at Teen Life at St. Mark's, where he once gave an hour long talk on how to treat a woman, which is frequently mentioned in the comments on the memorial websites about him.
Mr. Titus remembers vividly the reaction some of the kids from the group upon seeing Brandon for the first time. "Some kids would look at him and be like "Oh my God, are you sure he belongs in this group, he looks like the son of Satan...but after that, everyone realized he had his feet on the ground."
Brandon was tattooed, had his ears gauged and had a passion for riding his Harley Davidson with his dad. He wasn't your average, everyday young man; he was an individual who cherished his ability to think outside the box.
Brandon's parents taught him to think for himself, to question authority, and to value our heritage as Americans.
His father is a decorated combat wounded veteran who served two tours in Vietnam. The Titus Family has been serving our country for decades and has a long distinguished military record, dating all the way back to the Spanish American War. It was Brandon's admiration of his family's legacy, the events of 9-11 and his yearning to earn his freedom, as his family had, which propelled him into the military.
In a letter Brandon wrote to his family, which was read at his memorial service, he said, "I joined the military for two reasons. I decided that before I could take the freedoms and liberties this country has given me for granted, I needed to earn them. I also joined the Army because this line of work is in my blood. There has been many people from my family who have served this country. I learned a lot from my dad and I wanted to be just like him.
In many ways, Brandon is like his father. He served our country; he stood for what he believed in, he had honor and integrity and held true to his identity. When the going got tough...Brandon dug in and did what he felt he had to do to honor his family and his freedom.
He enlisted in the Army even through his resentment of the government. Growing up, Brandon helped his dad through health problems which came about as a result of surviving Vietnam. Their experiences with Veterans Affairs left a lot to be desired from Brandon's perspective.
Trying to sum up the life of a person in one article seems all but impossible, however, Mr. Titus, who probably knew his son better than anyone said, "He was still ornery, but that was my kid."
He was well-mannered, a good looking young man, but, he had conviction and he had to do what he had to do. We used to talk about All American boys back in the 50's and 60's...something you don't really hear anymore because everyone wants to be like this and that...their role models-no one is an individual. Brandon was an All American Boy!
He was the boy that a girl could take to her parents. He was a young man who had a need - not knowing what his destiny was - he would step up and do the right thing. That showed when he joined the military. He did what he felt was right - what he needed to do in his life.
And to me...it's no mom and apple pie and waiving the flag, that's my son...he's an "All American Boy."
Spc. Brandon Thomas Titus
December 12, 1983 - August 17, 2004
Army Spc. Brandon Titus, of Boise, ID, was the son of a decorated Vietnam veteran and the great-great nephew of a Medal of Honor recipient. Calvin P. Titus was with the 14th Infantry when he received the nation's highest military award for being the first to scale the city wall at Peking in 1900 during the China Relief Expedition.
Brandon Titus, 20, was determined to make his mark in the military too.
"He gave it everything he had every single day of his life and he never asked for anything back," said former Cpl. Kyle Angelini, who had known Brandon since basic training and served with him in Iraq. "When new guys came in, they'd put them under Brandon because they knew if the guys learned half the work ethic of Brandon, they would be great soldiers.
Brandon didn't sweat the small stuff and, as Kyle says, "He didn't sweat the big stuff either!" Stress just seemed to disappear around him. Perhaps it was his "oddball" sense of humor or his ability to make others laugh without even trying. Kyle remembers the time his family took Brandon out to dinner in New York. "He ordered a burger and the waitress asked if he'd like fries. He made her check to see if they were made from Idaho potatoes....I think he was going to have coleslaw if they weren't," laughed Kyle. "He was dead serious. He wasn't trying to be funny....that was just him."
Brandon was never more serious than when it came to serving his country. "Before he found out he was being deployed, he was going to try to transfer units so he could go to Iraq," said Kyle. "He was all about the Army and he wanted to make his dad proud."
In His Father's Footsteps
On Aug. 30, 2004, Brandon Titus, a member of the Army's elite 10th Mountain Division, got his final wish. Nobody ever wanted it to come true. Brandon became the first veteran to be buried in the Idaho State Veterans' Cemetery, a casualty....like so many other veterans....of a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Brandon always looked to his father, Tom, as a role model. Growing up in Boise, Idaho, he was constantly reminded of his father's heroic efforts during the Vietnam War. Tom suffered severe wounds during two highly decorated tours of duty in Vietnam, earning him two Purple Hearts.
When his parents divorced, Brandon decided he wanted to live with his father. Tom instilled in Brandon a passion for living life to its fullest. As a single parent, Tom raised his son with the morals and values that he practiced: respecting women and giving more than 100 percent to whatever you do.
Tom was later diagnosed with cancer, causing Brandon to grow up faster than a typical teen. He always stood by his dad and spent countless hours at his bedside.
Those who knew Brandon well, however, were familiar with his prankster side. "You always knew if he was saying something sarcastic or joking about something because he had a smirk on his face. And, if you saw that smirk, it meant Brandon liked you," said Brandon's dad. That was just one of the many characteristics Tom passed on to his son.
Tom recollects hearing one day about how some girls in one of Brandon's classes were planning on going around to certain houses to toilet paper them. When Brandon learned his house was on the list, he and his guy friends came up with a plan of attack. As the girls showed up one night, Brandon and the boys were laying in wait on the roof with water balloons and water guns. It was quite a funny ambush. Brandon was always on the defensive, and knew how to get the job done.
After the Sept. 11. 2001 terrorist attacks, Brandon decided it was time to follow in his father's footsteps. "I realized I was being very ignorant and that before I could take all the freedoms that this country gives me for granted, I should probably earn them. I decided four years of my life isn't that much at all and I should give them to my country," Brandon told his dad just a few days before he was deployed to Iraq.
Brandon had dreams of teaching someday. It was another way he wanted to give back. But, instead, he put those plans on hold and enlisted in the Army. After Airborne and pre-Ranger training, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, based in Watertown, N.Y.
"I'm happy because I'm going with some guys I know. The way I look at it, the sooner I go, the sooner I will get back," Brandon had continued in his conversation with his father.
Unfortunately, 20-year-old Spc. Brandon Titus gave his all and lost his life on a distant battlefield. The aspiring teacher was killed in Baghdad on Aug. 17, 2004, when an Improvised Explosive Device detonated near the checkpoint he was manning. Brandon, posthumously received the Combat Infantryman Badge, a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Tom remembers when the military officials showed up at his door to give him the news about his son "like it was yesterday." "I froze," said Tom.
Tom recalled what his all-American boy had said to him before he left for Iraq. "I will give you a detailed letter that I want you to read if I don't make it home." he said. Tom had hoped that he would never have to read it.
Tom said that in the letter Brandon talked about how his time had come and how he didn't want anyone to be sad. A part of the letter read, "I joined the Army because I realized this line of work was in my blood. I wanted to do this to make my dad proud."
Tom said reading the letter was the hardest part of dealing with Brandon's death because he felt guilty that his son wanted to be like him. "A lot of combat Vietnam vets have had to deal with survivor's guilt and this threw me right back in it," sad Tom.
In the letter, Brandon also specified that he wanted to be buried in the new Idaho State Veterans' Cemetery. Idaho had been the only state in the country without a veterans' cemetery. Burials were not supposed to take place in the cemetery until construction was complete, but, because Brandon died in active duty combat and that was his wish, a special exception was made.
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who knew Brandon personally, spoke highly about the young hero to the hundreds of people who turned out to pay their respects at his funeral service. Friends and family described the soldier as selfless and compassionate, offering help to anyone who needed it. Not only was he a good talker, he was also a good listener. "He was such a great guy, a great athlete and he always made people laugh," said Andy Villegas, a high school friend of Brandon's.
Tom remembers Brandon and his sister as being normal siblings who argued. In fact, he said one time he walked into a sporting goods store and asked for a loud whistle and a black and white referee shirt. The guys at the store asked what sport he needed it for and Tom replied, "For my kids!" This is another example of the humor Tom passed down to his son.
The members of Brandon's troop said the mood drastically changed after Brandon was killed. They didn't have Brandon standing in line making little comments that were often sarcastic, but funny. He was respectful and took the job seriously, but he also knew when he could play.
"He worked his heart out to do what he needed to do," said Tom. His commanding officers even acknowledged that if you heard some sort of crack, you knew it was Brandon. You could always count on him to make you smile. In fact, he was responsible for naming his platoon "The Outlaws." He was also responsible for the platoon motto "Ride or Die".
Brandon and his dad were often considered "outlaws" while riding around town on their motorcycles. It was a passion they shared and time well spent together. Now Tom's time is spent honoring Brandon by riding in his memory, raising awareness and support for fallen soldiers and their families.
Brandon Titus was the sixth Idaho soldier to make the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Killed on patrol, he left behind a message saying he wanted to make his dad proud.
Brandon's dad says he is the proudest father in the world.