Reminiscing about SGT Steven DeLuzio and Bubble Gum
[Explicit Content Warning]
This is part 2 of my talk with Wes Black. If you haven't listened to part 1, go check that out now. You really don't want to miss that one.
In this episode, we pick up where we left off and begin by talking about my brother Steven. Wes was on the mission that Steven was killed on, so he opens up about how that mission went.
Wes and I also share some light hearted stories about Steven that are sure to get a laugh. If you knew my brother, you'd know that it's hard to tell a story - even one about his death - without there being a funny story involved.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:02 Hey everybody, this is the Drive On Podcast where we talk about issues affecting veterans after they get out of the military. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio and now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:14 This is Part 2 of a two-part episode with Wes Black. Part 1 came up last week and if you haven't listened to that episode yet, go ahead and give it a listen, too. In that episode we talked a bit about Wes, his military career and some medical issues that he had stemming from his service. Our conversation lasted for well over two hours and I didn't want to cut out anything from our conversation so I decided to break it out into two parts. And so, in this episode we're going to talk about my brother, Steven and tell some funny stories and also some serious stories about combat and the circumstances surrounding his death and other things that went on during his life. So, without further delay, let's get on with the second part of this episode.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:00 We talked a little bit about, how you guys met at Norwich [University]. You said you had already been in the guard. You already went to basic training at the point where you met him. Were you one of the guys who talked him into joining the guard or,
Wes Black: 01:21 So I was not, I was not one of the guys that talked Steve into joining. Steve at the first time I met Steve was actually at a drill weekend and it was Halloween weekend and it was like a MUDA4, so, it was a Saturday, Sunday non-remain overnight. And so, Saturday night we got cut loose. And so, because I had been in the unit for a little over a year, I knew to bring civilian clothes to the drill. Because if we got released, we'd go out into Burlington and raise hell. And so, it's Halloween night. Right? And Steve looks at me and he's like, Bro, I don't have any clothes. I don't have any civilian clothes. Because at the time he was a freshman at Norwich, so freshmen aren't allowed according to the Rook, you're not allowed to have civilian clothes.
Wes Black: 02:07 You could if you were in the guard. But Steven only recently just come to drill and didn't know the rules. And so, I said, I was like, fuck it man. It's Halloween. Like, just tell everybody you're a soldier. At the time it was 2004 and I was like, just tell everybody you're a fucking soldier. Everybody loves fucking soldiers. I mean, we're fucking heroes, man. Just fucking go as a soldier. So, he says, all right, so we go downtown, right? And I'm in civilian clothes. I think I had stopped and grabbed a stupid mask or something at one of the Halloween party stores. So, we're downtown in Burlington eating pizza and drinking beer at, oh, what was it? Manhattan pizza or Mr. Mix or something like one of the pizza shops.
Wes Black: 02:53 I had actually scratched my ID, the back of my military ID because I was born in 1985. I had scratched it where the five connects down to the bottom, I scratched away that side. And then on the other side I scratched it so it looked like a three and then used the sharpie to color it in like a fine point Sharpie. So, I actually had an ID that said I was like two or three years older than I really was and I was 19. So, I said I was 21. So, I could get into all these clubs and drink and I could go up to the bar and get drinks. In case the police are listening, I only did it once. So anyway, we're out, we're drinking. I had set Steve up in the corner and I was like, hey listen, I'm going to go to the bar, I'm going to get us a couple of drinks, I'm going to get us some food.
Wes Black: 03:40 And so at the time, I think he was with Leeza and so I come back and Steve was always a charmer, like he could strike up a conversation with the fucking wall and he really could. So, I come back and there's these three women standing around the table that Steve is at. And I'm like, fuck. I was like, yeah, this is going to be a good night. So, I sit down and I was like, Hey, what's going on? So. we were sitting there chatting and chatting and I look at Steve and I'm like, Yo man, you gonna bring these girls home. He looks at me and he's like, no, I got a girlfriend. And I'm like, WHAT? so sure enough, man, we went back to the fucking hotel room and I'm sitting there going, are you fucking, are you fucking kidding me?
Wes Black: 04:28 Sure enough he called Leeza. Hey, how's it going, honey? I was like, oh my God. So I road his ass a little bit about that. And so, to give you another side of Steve is after we had come back from Iraq, I tried to go back to Norwich and I just couldn't do it. So, I bummed around the Vermont guard for a long time. And so, when we were getting ready to train up to go to Afghanistan, Steve and I were in the same platoon. We were both team leaders, so we were both sergeants. I think he was assigned to first squad or maybe second squad and I was third squad. I was the third squad Alpha team leader. I think he was like the first squad, Bravo team leader or first or second squad, Bravo team leader.
Wes Black: 05:12 And so, we were out one day at Fort Polk getting ready to train our guys. We'd set up a glass house, which is just tape on the dirt in the shape of a house and we were going to do these close quarter battle drills and train our guys on how to move through houses. And so, we go walking out and I turned to Steve and I went to check him, right. Because Steve was a hockey player. He's a phenomenal hockey player. And he happened to get just low enough on me that when he and I went to check each other, he actually popped my right shoulder out, like dislocated it. And all of a sudden I'm like, oh fuck. And my shoulder's killing me.
Wes Black: 05:55 And of course Steve feels bad instantly. He is like, oh my God, Bro. I'm so sorry. And so, he gets me over to the aid station house basically carry my arm and we get over to the aid station, the doc puts it back in, the docs like, all right, listen, you got to take it easy over the next day or two. Just ice it, relax it, I'm going to give you, some compression bandage to put over it. I really want you to take it easy. So, I'm like, okay. So, we go back out, we do the training, we go back inside to sit down and we had these big open barracks with built these little cots, right? And so, I'm sitting on my cot and Eric Kilburn, who was one of the guys, he was a in second platoon, very funny guy, very funny guy.
Wes Black: 06:37 Love to just joke around with anybody. And Steve was the kind of person where he would make fun of anyone mercilessly. Right. If he knew how to push your buttons. That's exactly what he would do.
Scott DeLuzio: the slightest opening he would dig.
Wes Black: Oh yeah and he would dig. But I will tell you what, only Steve was allowed to do it because if somebody else started doing it, Steve was the first person to be like, Yo motherfuckers, shut the fuck shit. Like he would, he was very adamant that like, he was the only one that could fucking needle you. And so I'm sitting on my cot, minding my own business. I think I actually had my headphones on. I wasn't paying attention. I was watching a movie, Killie comes up with this pillow, right.
Wes Black: 07:19 And he just whacks me across the back. He's trying to be funny. Like he's trying to start a pillow fight except it pops my shoulder back out because I had literally just had it put back in. And so, of course I instantly buckle. I start crying because of the pain, like it fucking hurt man. And so, Kellie looks at me, he's like, Yo, you all right. Bro? And I pull my headphones on and I'm like mother fucker. So, Steve comes flying over like literally puts his hands on Kilbourn. He's like, Yo mother Fucker, what's your fucking problem? And so, Kelly's like, whoa, Whoa, Whoa, I'm sorry I had no idea. And I'm like, it's okay man. Don't worry about it. So, Steve actually helps me get my shoulder popped back into place because if he'd watched the doctor do it so Steve knows how to do it.
Wes Black: 08:05 So Steve Helps me get popped back into place. Right. It feels better. So, he sits down next to me and I literally have like tears rolling down my face from the pain. It hurts so bad. And he looks at me and he goes, y'all right. I was like, yeah, Bro, just fucking hurts man. He goes, all right, he kind of slaps me on the knee and he goes, good, get yourself fixed up because you look like you just took second place in a drag race and fucking stands up and walks away. I was like, you mother fucker. That was the kind of person he was like, he would make sure you were okay, but he would make sure that he got one in as he was walking away.
Scott DeLuzio: And so, the last day
Scott DeLuzio: 08:47 that I was at a Camp Atterbury you guys were there and we, after we left Camp Atterbury, we went down to Fort Polk. And so, we had all of our shit, packed up, ready to go and everything. And, and we only had like so much space on the buses that took us down there. And so, like if you had extra stuff that was not issued or on the packing list or whatever you had to carry it, like it wasn't going in the other bags, there just was no room for it. And so, while we were waiting for the buses to get loaded up and everything, we had a few minutes before the buses left. And so, we were able to come grab some chow.
Scott DeLuzio: 09:31 It was not at our designated time or whatever but I walked in and Steve was in there, so it was your unit's time to be in there. And I walked in and I managed to actually eat a dinner that night with him. And a few of the other guys that you guys are with. I don't know specifically who at the time was there so, I came in my assault pack and it has shit hanging off of it. I look like a Hobo walking around with all this crap. And he just ripped into me like, where the fuck are you going? Into summer camp or something. You need a little pillow, you need, all this other shit. In front of a group of guys I'd never met before in my life. And he's just like, ripping it into me. And it was like one of the funniest things, but it's exactly what you said. Like he'll rip into you.
Wes Black: 10:25 but I guarantee you had anybody else said anything, Steve would've been the first part. We'll be like, Yo, shut the fuck up. That's my brother. Shut up.
Scott DeLuzio: 10:33 Yeah. He was totally like that. That was definitely him.
Wes Black: 10:39 Yeah. So now that we've given a little background story on Steve, Steve was always a comedian and so the day that Steven and Tristan got hit in Afghanistan. We had actually planned this mission a number of times to go and conduct, it was supposed to be done by an air assault. We were supposed to get airlifted into a high ground. We had gone into this village a couple of times and every time we had gone in, we had had a firefight. We had had troops in contact and we had been lucky the first two times that we didn't get caught with our pants down. But the third time we went in we did. It was supposed to be an air assault. We were supposed to get dropped off on the high point and basically do a hammer and anvil with two platoons.
Wes Black: 11:39 Basically, conducting this sweeping operation around this little, draw that was coming down off a mountain. And so, plans change it goes from an air assault. We're going to drive in, right? So, this is the third time we've conducted an operation in this village and third time we've driven into the village. And so, we take the same route in that we've taken every other time because it gives us a nice little bit of, <inaudible> to get into the village, there's a bit of open space that we had to cross. And so, we threw smoke grenades, we threw some shots in two or three smoke grenades to kind of give us a little bit of cover as we moved across, our concealment I should say, not cover. And so, we get up on this peninsula, this draw that we were supposed to get up on and be air assaulted onto.
Wes Black: 12:29 We finally get up on top. And so, my platoon was conducting the sweep operation, so I was on the top. Actually, Steve and I were kind of in the middle of the top tier of the operation. our lieutenant was at the very tip because he was coordinating this whole pendulum swing of his platoon. Jason Smith, my platoon sergeant was down below coordinating the weapon. First and second squad I think was who was down there. And then third and weapons were up top. And so, we're working with our ANA Afghan national army counterparts. We had literally just gotten up onto the draw. And we are taking a tactical pause because we were waiting for first and second squad to catch up and swing around the draw.
Wes Black: 13:28 Because they were obviously fighting the terrain, but they were also fighting a couple of houses that were in their way. So, they were having to clear the houses and go along. So, we're taking a tactical pause, I'm on a knee and all of a sudden I hear some shouting it's in Farsi or Pashtoon and I hear pop pop and then I hear kachunk and I was like, fuck what the fuck is that. And one of our ANA counterparts had actually walked up on somebody who was hiding in a ditch and went to engage them. And basically, he had told him like, drop your weapon. Went to engage him, pulled his trigger shot two rounds and his weapon jammed. The guy who, the insurgent, stitched him with his AK 47, pretty much, right there. At which point the whole fucking hill exploded. I remember trying to figure out where my guys were because the terrain was such that I couldn't see any of my guys from my squad. So, I knew I had two guys in front of me that were right there. I just couldn't see them. And then all of a sudden I hear that Steven has been hit. And so, I got
Wes Black: 14:52 up and ran to find him, because he was my best friend. And I crested a little. I don't even like a drainage ditch. And I actually ran into Southworth and one of our guys, Mike Leonard. Southworth was the 240 Bravo machine gunner and Southie just pointed and said, he's over there. Sarge is hit. And so, I ran up and I got to your brother and I don't know if he was still alive, but I firmly believe that Steve died in my arms, man. [Emotional Sniffling] Sorry.
Scott DeLuzio: 15:45 I can imagine the emotion they're going through not only then but now even still. Thinking back on it has to be hard for anybody. Yeah.
Wes Black: 16:00 Yeah. It's tough but I got to him, I rolled him over, basically held him for a minute and then I realized that somebody was shooting at me or shooting at us and because I could see puffs of dirt kicking up around me as I was holding Steve I looked up and sure enough there were two guys that were shooting at me from like a hundred yards away. And I picked up my rifle and I took care of business and I immediately yelled up to lieutenant that Steve was KIA, at which point it goes from a combat operation to a recovery operation to get our fallen angel out of there. So, we continued to fight for a few more minutes. There was a little bit more confusion.
Wes Black: 17:05 The fight stopped for whatever reason, I think, probably there was enough confusion that the initial unit that had contacted us had been disrupted. They didn't really know where we were; because again, you've got to remember that the entire time first and second platoon had been pivoting to sweep the lower part of the hill. So, as more of my platoon was getting involved in the fight, I think the insurgence realized we may have bit off a little bit more than we could chew. So, my Doc Mulcahy, our medic comes flying up the fucking hill, man. He had been down with first and second squad and
Wes Black: 17:50 he did, he came flying up the fucking hill. I had never seen anybody move up, literally almost vertical terrain as fast as he did which is a credit to him because he was, rule number one for Doc. Doc doesn't let good men die. Rule number two, doc will do everything he can to break rule number one, or rather prevent number one from happening. He will fucking do anything he can to prevent rule number one from happening. And by the time Doc got there, obviously it was too late. But the funny thing about that moment that I remember vividly was at the beginning of the mission, when we got out of the trucks, Steve had jumped out of the truck and ripped his pants. So, he wasn't wearing underwear that day. And he turned and jokingly said, hey, Wes, do you want some bubblegum? And he held it.
Wes Black: 18:53 And so I of course laughed. And when we were packaging Steve up to get him off of the hill, I happen to notice that his balls were hanging out of his pants. And I remember laughing and the guys must've thought I was insane because obviously it's really tragic, horrible event. And then I'm laughing like hysterically and they're looking at me like, what the fuck are you laughing at? And I said, because he used to do it. Like he would walk up to people and pull his ball sack out and say, Hey, want some bubblegum? And I just pointed down and I said, you want some bubble gum? And, of course, everybody looks, sees Steve's balls hanging out. And, of course, we all start laughing because that was the way Steve was. And we all laughed at that. That's exactly how Steve would have gone out. And so,
Scott DeLuzio: 19:49 I mean, even as a kid, we’re growing up, he was maybe a teenager or whatever we'd be hanging out at home or whatever, and he just gets up off the couch or gets up, goes walking across the kitchen or whatever and his ass would be hanging out. And we look over, it's like, what the F, what are you doing? And so, that doesn't surprise me, like at all, like he did that, it didn't matter. And he did other stupid shit like that too. But you'd be telling him a story and it didn't quite interest him or whatever, or it was a boring story to him. And he'd be standing there and he would literally fall down to the ground, pretend like he was sleeping, like just collapsed to the ground and just fall asleep. That does not surprise me at all that he would, with his balls out or whatever to just get a laugh out of people.
Wes Black: 20:48 Yeah. That was so classic man. So, we got Steve packaged up and where we're actually starting to head down the hill. So, the LZ, we called them the evacuation bird, or called up to higher that we needed a medivac bird to get Steve out of there. And so, as we're starting to come down the hill, we're on this kind of focal point of the draw and it was really open and exposed. It wasn't a very good tactical place for us to be walking, but it was the only clear path where we could have four guys carrying a polis litter with our fallen angel. And so, I was on Steve's left side, well I was on the left side carrying, so it would have been Steve's right and I was carrying his legs.
Wes Black: 21:37 And as we start to traverse down the hill, all of a sudden, we get hit again with automatic machine gun fire, RPGs, very accurate, very high-volume fire. And so, we all hit the dirt and Steve gets dropped on the trail. And so, we all scrambled for cover and realize that Steve is still laying. So, we all get back up and bring him down into where we all jumped into this little ditch, this drainage ditch that was next to the path. So, we're under extremely high-volume fire. And I heard again that we had taken somebody who was wounded. Then I heard an RPG round impact and I heard that somebody else was wounded and I basically realized that we were sitting fucking ducks.
Wes Black: 22:30 And so I took it upon myself. I grabbed our two mortar guys that we had assigned to us. I ran down the hill, I set them up and I started directing fire for them to engage this machine gun team that was firing at us from another ridge line almost like 500, 600 yards away. And they were doing an extremely good job of putting accurate fire on our position. And so, these guys expend their mortar rounds. The machine gun goes quiet for a few minutes. I get up, I run back up the hill and I forget who I told one of the guys that I was going to find us a house to basically collect all our casualties. Because at this point, I had heard that we had three more wounded. And so, I heard three more wounded, but I think in total they had said that we had three wounded. And so, I run down the hill, I find this house and I grabbed two of my Joe's as I'm going down and we clear this fucking building and it's a house and we cleared it. There was a small family in it that was mostly women and children. Anyway, we secure the place and I run back up the hill to get like all of my guys to start moving down the hill
Wes Black: 23:46 to this position. So they're out of fire. And as they're coming down, as I'm like running up the hill, they're coming down. They'd followed me down. And I grabbed this body and I start pulling and I thought it was Steve and I was like, why is fucking Steve not in the litter? And I realized that it wasn't Steve. It was Tristan Southworth. He had in the initial volley, he was again, like I said, he was our 240 gunner. In the initial volley, he had actually taken a round underneath his left armpit and it had gone straight out through his right armpit and basically, double-lunged and heart the kid. He was dead instantly and Smitty had had been walking probably six men positions behind me in the formation as we were moving out, actually, had a RPG explode right in front of him and the shrapnel actually came up and hit him in the face and knocked out most of his teeth.
Wes Black: 24:56 And I said to you, he has all this blood coming from his face. So, we had some guys that performed really, really valorously that day. Specialist Brandon, who was one of my guys, actually, took the 240 from Southworth’s body and actually started engaging targets and he won the Silver Star that day for his actions. Smitty won the Bronze Star with Valor. Because, of the fact that he still maintained control over platoon while wounded, Specialist Pallotta, who actually wound up committing suicide a few years ago, after we got home, he won an ARCON with Valor. He was one of the guys that I had directed Specialist Goobek. He won an ARCON with Valor. He was another one of the mortar guys. I received the Bronze Star.
Wes Black: 25:57 Doc actually received the Bronze Star with Valor for treating patients under fire. Mainly, Smitty and a couple other guys won some awards for their bravery and heroism. And at the end of the day when we finally totaled up and our losses and we got down into the house, we realized that we had two fallen angels and a couple of knocked up or knocked around angels. So, we had some pretty serious wounds to lick that day. And at the end of the day we expected to be taken out of the village, to be medivaced out or well not medivaced out, but like, evacuated out. We were expecting to get pulled out of the village that night and they actually wound up keeping us in the fucking village on the main road in our fucking trucks overnight because it's, yes.
Wes Black: 27:02 So, we had to spend the night in the fucking village that we just lost two fucking guys sleeping on the main road in our fucking truck because when we were starting to consolidate that company back down, it was like 6: 30 at night and higher command, battalion-level command decided that it was too late for us to move and that they couldn't get air assets to get the quick reaction force platoon out. So, they didn't want us to leave the quick reaction force on the ground by themselves. So, our entire company had to stay to basically overwatch the acting battalion commander because the real battalion commander was on leave. The acting battalion commander was a Major Landerman and the quick reaction force platoon had to stay and basically safeguard them until the next day when they could get air assets and to get us out. That was a rough fucking rough 24 hours. So
Scott DeLuzio: 28:09 I could only imagine how all that went down and being in there. I know when that day I was out on a mission too, and we were basically like flew in. We had helicopters land on top of a mountain outside of a village and we worked our way down the village and we were going through clearing it. And at one point during our mission, a Black Hawk comes in and lands like at the bottom of the hill, outside of the village. And like a US general, I forgot how many stars, but I know he was a general came off the bird and a couple of French soldiers as well came off and they were like walking around and they came over to us and they were talking to us and something came over the radio to one of the people. I think it was to the general who was there and he had said that they had just lost two soldiers earlier that day.
Scott DeLuzio: 29:21 And he was in a weird way, he was talking to me about it. And I was a sergeant, nothing. I didn't really, I was there, but I didn't really have any sort of importance. It just happened to be I was the guy he was talking to and he was telling me about that, but he had no idea who was, he had no idea who was killed or anything. And so, later that day after I got the news about Steven and everything, they called for Blackhawks to come take me and a couple of guys who were wounded that day. Take them off the mountain and once when we were wrapping up with everything. The Black Hawk, I ended up getting on that same general who had talked to me earlier that day was sitting right across from me. And he looked at me, he goes, didn't I talk to you, you seem fine, what's going on? I was like, yeah, my brother was KIA and he goes, that was your brother? And we just talked, a couple of hours earlier. It was like such a strange coincidence. But know it was the same person who talked to me earlier that day and he had no idea who I was or who Steven was or anything like that. But it was bizarre.
Wes Black: 30:48 I don't identify as a particularly religious man. I believe in a higher power. I don't go to church every Sunday. I don't follow with an organized religion, but I do believe that there is something good after, all of this. There has to be, because I've seen so much horrible fucking shit for there not to be something on the other end. And it's funny because you have to know that it's, I firmly believe that that was Steve's way of bracing you for the news that was to come.
Scott DeLuzio: 31:34 I've reflected on that quite a bit over the years and thought to myself “why did things work out the way they did?” And like you said, it's like I sort of feel everything happens for a reason and that they don't believe that that was a coincidence that that guy was there and that we talked, he specifically talked to me. You know about that type of stuff. Soften the blow a little bit because in the back of your head you have to think, it could have been, but even though that wasn't necessarily the thought that I had, that it was Steve necessarily because out of the thousands of other soldiers, who would've thought it would necessarily been him, but no, it softened it a little bit. I even remember after I got to Bagram after all that happened and everybody there was totally taking care of everything for me. They were trying to make sure everything was okay for me. And,
Wes Black: 5 32:50 okay.
Scott DeLuzio: 32:52 I was all like torn up and everything from the mission that we’re on uniform and everything like that. So, I look like hell, but they told me to go take a shower and everything. I remember standing there in the shower, it was just me in this particular room. I remember just verbally going, why, why, why? I don't know if I was talking to God at that moment or if I was talking to Steve or whatever. But in the moment I realized that these things happen for a reason and that, I may not understand that reason. The situation might suck, but everything I felt happens for a reason. I just have to trust it and go with it. No amount of questioning it is going to change. And so, you have to,
Wes Black: 33:40 That's the attitude that we had to take. Obviously, we were as a platoon we're fucking devastated. I mean it's okay. It took us a good solid month to finally get back to being even a semi functional fucking unit. I mean, I say that, but it probably was only a couple of weeks before we were back on doing missions, but we weren't the same. I think everybody kind of got that realization that we were very, very, very fucking mortal. We had been extremely lucky our entire deployment that no one had really gotten hurt. No one had really gotten injured. Certainly no one had gotten killed before August 22nd. And so, we had quite a bit of confidence that had built up because we thought, for lack of a better term, we were fucking invincible man.
Wes Black: 34:41 and then for us to have that super devastating blow come, it really knocked quite a few of us on our ass. Me especially, because Anthony Ames, Chuck Ames, Steve and I were best friends and it was a very, very hard, hard blow for Chuck and I. We were the three fucking amigos, man. Now that was who we were. And so, even today like Chuck and I talk but you can tell that there is a very big hole in our relationship, I don't want to say that but you can tell that there is a very big space because of the pain that the two of us have for losing our friend.
Wes Black: 35:42 I can only imagine how much it is for you and your family losing your brother and your son. It's funny because everybody in combat understands how we are brothers and we become family. You take people from all different walks of life and you literally throw them into this melting pot, this crucible pot and you turn them out into a family of people and to lose not just one but two brothers in a day. It did a wonderful job bonding the rest of us. But it did an amazing job of smashing a lot of us. And it was really, really hard to recover from. And some of us still haven't recovered. That's part of the message here is that you have to, no matter what life throws at you in terms of blows, life is going to hit you in the teeth multiple times.
Wes Black: 36:56 That's when you have to, lay on the ground for a second, you catch your breath, you spit your blood and teeth out, and then you got to roll back over and get on your hands and knees and you've got to find that strength to put that foot forward and just stand back up. And I've had to learn from not just Steve's death, but from my friends in Iraq who were killed. Mark Dooley, who was my platoon leader who got killed actually in my truck spot five days after I got wounded. He was in the spot that I was in because I had gotten wounded five days before I had that was the first time I ever got knocked on my fucking ass. And it was really, really hard to pick myself back up because the night before he had spent time with me sitting in a truck smoking a cigar and gave me his ranger tab because I had wanted to go to ranger school literally the night before. You got fucking killed in my spot and he gave me his fucking ranger tab and told me to put it in my hat when I went to ranger school and look at it. And I still have that ranger tab. It's downstairs in all my stuff. And I'm in the process of renovating my basement and building the bar and someday when my bar is done, I'm going to hang that very proudly next to all the other military memorabilia and pictures that I have of all my friends.
Wes Black: 38:21 Now that we've talked and been somber, I do have a very funny story about Steve. So, a couple months ago, do you remember the church that your parents grew up in? They were Eucharistic ministers down in Glastonbury. What was the name of that church?
Scott DeLuzio: St. Dunstans
Wes Black: Okay. So, my aunt who married into my family, so my uncle Neil, my mother's brother, his wife had a family member pass away. I think it was her brother. And he had been a member of the local Glastonbury community for a long time. He was a member of Glastonbury, Connecticut Country Club, I don't know, whatever the country club is there. My wife and I and my son went down to support her for the funeral. So, I'm in church and I'm sitting in the back and I'm looking around and it was a really nice church a really beautiful church.
Wes Black: 39:22 And, of course, I see my cousins, I see my aunt and my uncle and I'm waving hi and my kid starts getting fussy because three-year-olds don't like to sit still and sit quiet. My wife gets up and she walks out and takes him into the lobby and I'm sitting there and the next thing I know, I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn and I look and it's my wife and she's holding my son and she hands me Steven's memorial card from his funeral, nine years after the fact. Of course, I have at the time, I have no idea that this is the church that you and Steve and your parents grew up in and were Eucharistic ministers and so I'm like fucking flat out shocked, right? Like all the fucking churches in all the fucking county of Glastonbury, Connecticut.
Wes Black: 40:18 I find the one that has a picture of Steve in it, right. And my wife had actually walked out and as she was walking out, she looked up and she saw Steve's picture and she goes, oh, hi Steve. And so, she pulled the picture down, brought it in to me. And, of course, I start like fucking giggling and laughing, right? Because I'm like, you motherfucker, of course. And so, we walk out of the church service and I walk up to my aunt, my uncle, and my cousins and Laura is telling them the story of how she found the prayer card. And, of course, my aunt is like wicked superstitious and she's like, “oh my God, it's a sign.” And so I start laughing and I'm like, all right. It's a sign. Yeah. Yeah, I know. And so, we went to the country club for the luncheon after the funeral. Right. And so I'm sitting there and I was in a really nice suit. It was an older suit, like one of the first suits that I had bought. And so, Ronan, my son, gets up and starts running from one end of the country club banquet hall to the other. Of course, I have to run after him, right. Because he's taken off running towards the front door. And so, just as I catch Ronin,
Wes Black: 41:34 I go to a step and block him and the seat of my pants splits wide open. Right? Only Wes Black at a fucking funeral banquet, splits the seam of his pants wide open. And, of course, not wearing underwear. And what do you think is hanging out of the bottom of my fucking pants? And so, I literally start laughing because I can't do anything else, right? I'm holding my kid trying to like pull my pants together so you don't see my ass. And I walked back in and my wife's like, you all right. And I'm like, no, my fucking pants just split my pants. So, I give Ronan to her and say that I've got to go get my jacket. Because it was probably February or March, it was cold. And so, I go get my fancy dress jacket and I literally tie it around my waist, like a sweatshirt, you know?
Wes Black: 42:42 And my aunt is like, “oh my God.” So, I tell my uncle the story of Steve when he died and how he had his bubble gum out and my uncles starts fucking howling laughing and he goes, you have to be shitting me? And I'm like, no. And he goes, motherfucker, if that isn't a fucking sign, I don't know what is. And so, I actually went to visit Steve not long after the funeral service because I had planned on it because we were literally 10 minutes away from Steve's headstone. And so, I went to see Steve and I kneel over his grave and I'm like, you mother fucker. And so, I introduced Steve to Ronan for their first time, but I'll tell you man, I couldn't stop laughing. I called your dad, actually, that night to tell him the story and even he was laughing his ass off going, oh it's too classic. There's no way it wasn't Steve. And he goes even if it wasn't him Steve was dying laughing like laughing his ass off.
Scott DeLuzio: 43:55 Oh sure. Yeah, exactly. And it's funny because the Glastonbury country club is where you said you were at is the same place that we had the same banquet kind of reception after Steve's funeral. That's where we did a golf tournament for the first few years after he passed away to raise some money for charity stuff. And,
Wes Black: 44:19 the first year I came was, I think the year before you guys stopped doing because you guys had moved out to Arizona.
Scott DeLuzio: 44:26 Yeah. So, we did it there. I think we did it five years, afterwards and so all five years it was at the, the Glastonbury Country Club there. Growing up as kids, we played golf there and everything. That was part of our lives too. It's funny how it continues to have Steve's presence even to this day. You know with your pants ripping.
Wes Black: 44:57 Well it's funny man because the only reason I ever picked up the game of golf and actually I've actually become, I don't want to say a good Golfer an okay Golfer. I don't have a fantastic handicap. I have a 15 handicap but I've only been playing for a few years. And the only reason I picked up golf clubs was because I wanted to play in Steve's tournament and I started playing, I do think it was the second year or the like the year before your parents and you guys had moved out to Arizona because you were hitting balls on one of the tees for like 10 bucks or something. You hit a golf drive for people and I remember playing, because I played with Jean Enriques and Mark Slade because we'd all gone down to play. So, that was the only reason why I play golf now is to be able to get to heaven and kick your brother's ass at fucking golf.
Scott DeLuzio: 46:07 Well, we've stopped doing the golf tournament. It got to be quite a bit of work to put on an event like that, now that we're all living out here, it's hard to do that type of thing remotely. But we are actually planning more of a banquet dinner type thing the weekend after Memorial Day, I think May 30th of this coming year 2020, in Connecticut. We're all going back for that. And so, we're looking forward to having that. So, if anybody who is available to come down, who wants to join us or whatever, we will have more information coming out in the next few weeks.
Wes Black: 47:00 No, I tell you right now, man, I guarantee you 90% of my platoon will show up for it. Yeah. We were talking a bunch of dudes ready to show up and go to that. I guarantee it.
Scott DeLuzio: 47:14 Great. All right this has been amazing chat with you about everything and share some memories about Steve and everything. And I think that's a fitting way to,
Scott DeLuzio: 47:30 mark the anniversary nine years now, since his passing. And so, thank you for coming on and sharing, your thoughts and your memories about all of this stuff. So, thanks. Thanks for coming on.
Wes Black: 47:48 I'm really happy I got to come on, man. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about Steve and I hope that whoever's listening to this, if you're a veteran and you feel like you literally have run out of any options, I read a really good comment or picture meme and him on Facebook the other day, but I would rather sit and listen for four and a half hours for you to get out everything that you need to get out and talk about and make you feel better than spend 15 minutes listening to your eulogy. And that there isn't a fucking truer statement. I don't think about any veteran would be willing to do anything for another vet. So, if you're a veteran listening to this or if you're not a veteran listening to this and you're going through some sort of mental health crisis, reach out to somebody. There's always somebody willing to listen. Because I tell you I really would, I'd rather spend 12 hours on the phone with you walking you through something that's going on than sit and listen to a eulogy for 15 minutes.
Scott DeLuzio: 49:14 I don't know really anybody who would disagree with that, that sentiment.
Wes Black: 49:21 Yeah.
Wes Black: 49:23 Well, and you told me right before we started the show that you've had members of your unit that have committed suicide and we actually had two, one from our unit and one from a sister unit that have committed suicide since returning home from Afghanistan. And it's 22 a day is what they say. The average is for veterans committing suicide. And that's too many. One is too many, but 22 is definitely way too many. I would like to say that if anybody needs it, reach out. There's tons of options for reaching out to a battle buddy. If somebody that is listening to this that knows me, reach out to me, if you're listening to this, you obviously know Scott, reach out to Scott. Please, please, please do not make a permanent solution for a temporary problem.
Scott DeLuzio: 50:24 Yeah, absolutely. I don't think truer words have been spoken on this show. Because that definitely needs to get across. And I think that's part of why I'm doing this. I can't stand seeing people make those permanent decisions and not have any way to get out of it.
Wes Black: 50:49 And I don't mean to toot my own horn, that's not why I'm on here. But if I can go through everything that I'm going through the post-traumatic stress, the TBI, the fact that I've been handed this terminal diagnosis, some of the shit that I've seen on the fire side, some of the shit that I've seen on the military side, if I can find the strength every morning to get up and put my two fucking feet on the floor, guess what? You can too. And I don't care who is listening to this, if I can do it, so can you and you need to be able to do it every single day and maybe fucking the hardest thing you do, but you need to put your two feet on the floor.
Scott DeLuzio: 51:36 Absolutely. Amen to that. So, all right, well let's wrap it up and thank you again for joining me and
Wes Black: Thank you, Scott
Scott DeLuzio: And for everything else that's been going on. So, thanks
Scott DeLuzio: 51:54 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, driveonpodcast.com, we're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at drive on podcasts.
Great stories about Steve’s sense of humor
I remember thinking that his ripped pants were a one last way to make us laugh.
Exceptional exchange between two men who have seen and done things that would make most men’s knees buckle.
Great message about veterans and all people who are suffering a crisis to reach out for help. Not only a wonderful tribute to Steve with some lighthearted stories but a timely podcast since September is “Suicide Awareness Month” for DoD! Great job making this very real, Scott and Wes. ????????