Forever a Ranger

Tyrel Linkhorn

Benjamin Dillon’s parents knew little of what he did, but knew he was proud to do it

Linda and Terry Dillon would have paid for their son Benjamin to go to college, but that wasn’t what he wanted out of life.

Benjamin wanted adventure.

He liked the outdoors, going backpacking and hiking. One of his favorite things, Linda said, was going to his uncle’s home in West Virginia and visiting the shooting range.

While at Southeast High School, from which he graduated in 2004, Benjamin took a Wilderness Adventure class with Mr. McDivitt.

“He took them rock climbing, hiking. They went to Florida and spent a week in the swamps. He loved it. He liked everything about it,” Linda said. “That was his best, favorite class in school, and that was what he liked to do best, all that outdoor stuff.”

The stuff of an Army Ranger.

After high school, he joined the ranks of the army’s elite infantry unit.

Now, nearly four years later, his scuffed and dirty helmet sits atop a display case in the Dillon home. Inside the case rests a Bronze Star Medal and other mementos of Ben’s service, including a yellow and black Ranger tab, small U.S. sleeve flags and the folding Benchmade knife he carried, its tip broken, the black paint on the handle worn from use.

Oct. 6 of last year, Benjamin was killed in Mosul, Iraq, within two days of arriving for his fourth deployment in the country.

“He really wasn’t supposed to be in this mission,” Terry said. “He got over there, and I knew something was goofy because usually, when they first go over there, it’s like two or three days before anything happens because they’ve gotta get set up, relax again.”

But Benjamin was picked for a mission.

Returning from it, his group of three Strykers began taking small-arms fire from the buildings. As the other Rangers went to clear the buildings, Benjamin stayed with the armored four-axel vehicle and began firing his weapon.

Army officials told Linda and Terry that Benjamin stopped two explosive-laden cars that were being driven toward the Strykers in an apparent suicide attack. He was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for the act.

Fire continued to come from the building, and a bullet that ricocheted off the Stryker caught Benjamin under the arm, going up and across his chest, the military later told his parents. He died about 20 minutes after the hit.

Linda and Terry’s Edinburg Township home is still very much the home of a Ranger. The entrance to their gravel driveway is flanked by the Stars and Stripes and a yellow and black Ranger flag. A large, yellow, ribbon-shaped “Support the troops” sign stands near the front of their house. A Son in Service flag hangs in the window by the side door.

Sitting in the living room, surrounded by Ranger artwork and Ben’s things, a fire flickering in the fireplace, they proudly remembered some of the details of their son’s service.

After basic training, Terry said he was approached by parents of a few of the guys who graduated with Benjamin.

“A couple of his best buddies, their dads came over to me and the one was a preacher. He said, ‘I just want to tell you, if it wasn’t for your son, my boy would have never made it through the Army.’ And he come over and thanked me just to tell me, you know, how much of a help (Benjamin) was,” Terry said.

He also had a good sense of humor — the one thing that got him in trouble in basic training, his mother joked.

“These guys would be in your face screaming obscenities at you, calling you every name they could think of, and Ben would say ‘Mom, I knew what he was doing, and it was all I could do not to laugh. They’d call (me) names and I would just roar — I would crack up laughing and then I would be in trouble.'”

There was also a little incident involving a paintball gun, the sprinkler system and Ben’s hand squeegeeing three floors of the barracks.

But he made it.

After completing basic training and graduating airborne school, he was assigned to the 3rd battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in April 2005. He was in Iraq on his first deployment by July.

When Benjamin was in the states, Linda and Terry talked to him almost nightly on the phone. While overseas, the Internet made it possible for them to keep in touch.

“We lived for e-mails — that was our best mode of communication while he was over there,” Linda said. “There would be maybe like a week span where you wouldn’t hear anything from him, but besides that we sent e-mails back and forth daily.”

Ben couldn’t tell them anything about where he was or what he was doing, but Linda and Terry understood and took a different route with their correspondence.

“We always felt that our job was to be his moral support and just keep him updated on all the really stupid stuff to make him laugh and be very light-hearted,” Linda said.

Terry isn’t a talker on the phone — while he and Linda were dating, he said she joked about his inability to carry on a phone conversation. But the day before Benjamin shipped out for his fourth deployment, he and Terry talked for an hour and a half.

“That’s why I couldn’t hardly believe it when I seen the soldiers walk up to the door,” Terry said. “I couldn’t believe. But I knew something was wrong when they was all dressed up in all these badges, I knew something was wrong.

“But I couldn’t believe it because it was too quick.”

Ben was laid to rest Oct. 14, 2007, in his hometown. The army sent 30 Rangers for his funeral. Not all of them knew Ben, but it didn’t matter. All Rangers are brothers.

“They actually became a family, and they have taught these Rangers that that person is your brother, and no matter what, you take care of him,” Linda said.

The family of Rangers hasn’t forgotten Terry and Linda either.

“His group of guys that he was deployed with, they’re just like kids,” Linda said. “They call all the time. A couple have been to visit on their time off. It is just truly amazing to see the brotherhood that they have established within the Ranger battalion.”

There’s something about that arched yellow-on-black Ranger patch they’ve all worked so hard to earn that ties them together. Something that makes them different, something honorable.

“I think Ben was very proud of being where he was and who he was,” Linda said.

Contact news editor Tyrel Linkhorn at [email protected].