LARGO — Late on the morning of June 4, Cheryl Sitton's cell phone rang.
On the line was her son, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sitton. The call came from Afghanistan, where he was nearing the end of his third tour.
"Mom," he said, "I just sent a letter to Congressman Young."
Sitton didn't tell her what he had written to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. He didn't have to. For months, Sitton had told her, his platoon of 25 soldiers had been mandated to patrol empty fields and compounds littered with explosives. No one had told him why. When Sitton objected, which he had over and over, superior officers told him to quit complaining. His men's spirits were dwindling, as was their focus. His brigade, he estimated, was averaging one amputee a day.
"I don't know if he got it or not," Sitton told his mother of the letter. "But I sent it."
"Good for you, son," she said. "Hopefully, there's going to be a change."
Weeks later, Sitton told his aunt he no longer thought he or his men would live through their tour. That was the last time Sitton spoke to his family. On Aug. 2, he stepped on one of those explosives and died. He was 26.
On Thursday morning in Washington, one of Young's staffers read aloud Sitton's letter in a congressional hearing where he announced that after a decade of war, he believed it was time for America's soldiers to leave Afghanistan.
Far away from the nation's capital, on a quiet Largo road where every lawn is pierced with an American flag, Mrs. Sitton held the same letter and sobbed.
"He knew his job was on the line when he wrote the letter," she said, slumped in a chair in her front yard. "But he knew he needed to do it, because nothing else was working."
Mrs. Sitton and her husband, Steve, are blue-collar, regular people. They both work at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. She works the graveyard shift as a dispatcher. He's a mechanic. They raised four kids in the same gray house in which Mrs. Sitton was raised. An oak her father planted more than 30 years ago towers over the roof.
Thousands of parents just like them have buried thousands of young soldiers just like their son. The Sittons know that the pain from his death is no different than that of all those other families. But they also know what could result from their son's death could be much different.
They don't blame anyone for what happened, and they want no vengeance. Nothing, they know, will assuage their hurt.
What the Sittons want is change.
No one else, they say, should die the way their son did. Their lives now revolve around ensuring that his death will spare other soldiers from the same fate.
"Matt started something he truly believed in," Mrs. Sitton said. "And it's our job to finish it."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (727) 893-8472 or [email protected]