|Birth: ||May 18, 1971|
|Death: ||Apr. 4, 2003, Iraq|
Army Capt. Tristan N. Aitken 31, of State College, Pa.; assigned to 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga. killed in action in Iraq.
As a teen, Tristan Aitken raced twice in the national Soap Box Derby championships. But the Army's high-tech fighting machines became his professional passion.
His father, Ron, said Aitken often marveled at how " ‘they pay me to play with these things.' It's Star Wars for him. He loved it."
Aitken, 31, of State College, Pa., died April 4 in Iraq when a grenade struck his Humvee.
"He was a gung-ho'er," Ron Aitken said. "He went into Iraq saying: ‘Dad, I'm in God's hands. Don't worry about me.'
The father, a retired chief petty officer in the Navy Reserve, was bitter at the loss: "To lose my son for some people's hidden agenda in an unjust war is a real tragedy."
"My kids are Republicans, and my wife and I are Democrats," the father said. "We agreed to disagree about the war, but we support our kids 100 percent. Tristan's sister, Terryl, is an Army lieutenant.
He is also survived by his wife, Margo, who is a teacher in Fort Stewart, Ga.
Robert Baylor, the principal at Centre County (Pa.) Christian Academy, where Aitken attended high school, recalled Aitken and his pals playing war games with squirt guns during their senior class trip to Dollywood in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Aitken wrote an e-mail in February from Kuwait to Peter Ort, one of his high school buddies: "We've been on different paths, you and I, and I think we have done great for being the worst troublemakers the school saw in quite a while."
An Officer and Gentleman
April 8, 2003
Ruth Aitken did not believe in the war in Iraq, but she believed deeply in her son, Army Captain Tristan N. Aitken.
"I have made a decision, Tristan. I want to be an activist," she recalled telling him on the telephone last fall. "My question is, Do you have any problem with that?"
"Mom, you're my Mom," said her son, who was killed Friday in the fighting at Baghdad International Airport. "You can be whatever you want to be, you know that."
So the mother dismissed the war as an American power play for oil, wrote to local politicians in State College, Pennsylvania, where she lives, and cried when she watched the TV coverage. And the son prepared for the war for which he seemingly had always trained - roughing it outdoors as an Eagle Scout, snapping bullets into bull's-eyes as a state-champion marksman and mastering his classwork as the 1995 Distinguished Military Graduate from Texas Christian University.
"Whenever he said something about freeing Iraqis, I would tell him what I thought, but I was also very proud of who he was, and I respected him for doing his job," Ruth Aitken said yesterday. "He was not really a fighter, you know. He joined the military because he genuinely wanted to make a contribution to society."
Aitken, 31, died on Friday, 4 April 2003, as American troops swarmed the Baghdad airport, when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the vehicle in which he was riding.
Among the other casualties announced yesterday was Army Sergeant Wilbert Davis, 40, Hinesville, Georgia, who was killed Thursday along with journalist Michael Kelly when their Humvee flipped and landed in a canal.
The military also notified relatives of a Gulf War veteran, Army Sergeant Stevon Booker, 34, of Apollo, Pennsylvania, that he had been killed. Booker was a tank commander with the 3rd Infantry Division.
Aitken is survived by his wife of 15 months, Margo; his parents, Ronald and Ruth; and his sister, Terry, who is in the ROTC at the Illinois College of Optometry.
Although disturbed by the war that has taken her son, Ruth Aitken found comfort in recalling her family's happier times. In the 1980s, the Aitkens were the "A-Team" in national soap-box derby competitions. They wore black jackets and matching caps, and young Tristan took the controls of the motorless racer he and his father had built together.
"I've often thought, that's where I really noticed his eye hand coordination that later must have helped him in the Army," Ruth Aitken said.
As an Eagle Scout, Tristan Aitken was a member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's honor society. At TCU, he led the Officers Christian Fellowship. He had the privilege of training with Army Rangers as an undergraduate. His were deft hands with weapons, with vehicles, with global positioning devices, colleagues told his mother.
One officer, Ruth Aitken recalled, told her that her son had "a third or fourth sense about things."
In a letter dated March 6 that was received only recently by the family, Tristan Aitken asked his family not to worry about his welfare and to pray for the "safety and protection" of men and women under his command."
"He cared so deeply about his soldiers and their families," Ruth Aitken said. "He would rather have taken that hit on Friday than any of the men and women he worked with. I know that. I just know that."
THIS LISTING IS A MEMORIAL CENOTAPH. ACTUAL BURIAL: SECTION 60 SITE 7869
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Warriors Walk Memorial
Created by: Elizabeth Olmstead
Record added: Aug 15, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 15363267