Soldier's diary sends mother on mission of her own

Soldier's diary sends mother on mission of her own »Play Video

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- The diary of a local corporal killed in Iraq sent his mother on a painful but inspiring journey.

The 37 pages helped the mother of Jonathan Santos walk through her son's final days and ultimately led her to an unexpected discovery.

"My brother went off to Vietnam," said Doris Santos, "but he came home. So (I thought) Jonathan would come home. I thought he'd come home."

But he never did. On Oct. 15, 2004, an improvised explosive device took his life. And just like those before him, he became another statistic, or so his mother thought.

In the days that followed, a large trunk arrived on Doris' doorstep. It contained all of her son's personal belongings. Inside were his beret, his lucky Shrek doll and several videotapes he'd shot in Iraq.

But something unexpected caught Doris' eye -- a little green book.

"I told my family, 'look at what I found. He kept a journal,'" she said.

There were 37 entries inside, one for each day Jonathan spent in Iraq. He wrote about his first days in the country and time spent couped up in the barracks.

"Just another day chillin' in the frigid boiler room," he wrote.

By page 15, the entries became more frightening.

"Something strange happened this morning. We got shot at with rockets, six to be exact," he wrote on Sept. 22.

"Sounds just like him. You could actually hear his voice," Doris said.

Then on page 38, the words stopped. That's the day Jonathan died.

"Little pages and you get to the last one and it's empty," Doris said. "And that's the story. That empty page is a story all by itself."

Despite all the pain that empty page caused Doris, the diary also sparked her curiosity. She went back through the pages and found the names of the soldiers who were with her son that day. She found Sgt. Michael Owen, Marine Lance Cpl. William Salazar and Pvt. Matthew Drake.

Doris discovered Drake survived the attack, but suffered a traumatic brain injury that changed his life forever. Knowing the heartbreak Drake's mother, as well as the mother of the other soldiers must be feeling, Doris decided to track them down. They could all grieve together about their sons' fate, she thought.

Doris met Drake's mother, Lisa Drake, first.

"You know, I got my son back. And that's not fair," Lisa said.

The two women bonded immediately. And Doris realized the power her son's diary possessed. So she kept going.

Soon she found Gloria Salazar, mother of William Salazar, and Kay Hutchinson, mother of Michael Owen. Their sons, as well as Matthew Drake, had been traveling together when they were attacked.

"I was unaware of a survivor. I did not know about Matthew," said Salazar.

"I wanted to meet him, but it was very scary to me," said Hutchinson.

The two women decided to fly to Doris' home in Bellingham and meet for the first time on the anniversary of their son's deaths.

"We all thought we were alone in what we were feeling," said Hutchinson.

The women found new strength in each other -- four mothers who sent their sons off to war and were each dealt a terrible loss. But they also found new strength in Matthew.

"My son lives in him, and I was just so happy to meet everybody," said Salazar.

"Finally, we are all feeling the same thing," said Hutchinson.

Because of Matthew's injuries, he was never able to attend any of the memorial services and pay respects to his friends. But he was finally given a chance to do so in his own way.

He presented each of his new three mothers with memorial flags to honor his new family brought together by 37 small pages written inside a little green diary.

Doris says a fourth person died alongside her son -- an Iraqi interpreter who went by the name A.D. Doris has not yet been able to track down his mother, but plans to continue her search.