MOUNT PLEASANT -- Two-and-a-half-year-old Richie Cliff visited his grandparents recently. He loves to go to the refrigerator, which is covered with photos of him and his family. He'll look to the one of Richard "Richie" Cliff in uniform.
"Grandmom, Granddad," he says, pointing, "My daddy."
An improvised explosive device killed Army Capt. Richie Cliff in Afghanistan in November 2008. He was 29 years old. He had shipped out for his second deployment on Sept. 11 of the same year, this time with Special Forces. The week before he shipped out, the boy named for him was born.
"He had one week with his son," said Rich Cliff, Richie's grandfather. "His son knows who he is. He has no understanding even of the concept of what happened to his dad. He knows his dad is in heaven."
Stacy Cliff, little Richie's mom, is taking finals this week, trying to earn a master's degree. She lives near Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and keeps in close contact with other officers and their wives. She's trying to make a life for herself, Rich Cliff said. "It's tough on her. She knows Richie goes to school soon and that will be lonelier for her."
The elder Richie Cliff was in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., when the 9/11 attacks killed thousands, stunning him and his family like it stunned everyone else. His parents knew, as he knew, where he would be heading.
"I know that Richie felt very strongly about serving, felt very strongly about deploying. They really changed his life," Rich Cliff said, referring to the terrorists who caused the tragedy. "They really made him committed to being a front-line solider and to keeping our world safe."
When Rich Cliff heard about the death of Osama bin Laden, the principal thing he felt was "a tremendous sense of relief. I personally feel very strongly he was responsible for my son's death."
The family soldiers on. Rich Cliff's voice will choke up a bit as he talks about his son. But he is clear and articulate about the legacy, its importance to the family and to 2 1/2-year-old Richie.
"We want to make sure he continues to know what a hero his dad was," Rich Cliff said.
'No greater honor, no greater sacrifice'
Trae Redmond had just sworn the military oath of office at The Citadel. He was walking away when he heard: Jets had slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The United States was under attack.
He had wanted to join the S.C. National Guard as a career move to get more of the military experience he had at The Citadel.
"In that moment it changed, from building my professionalism and my career to 'Now I'm serving my country,' " he said this week.
Redmond, 29, a Charleston native, is now the brigade headquarters commander in Charleston. He served a tour in Afghanistan as a security force platoon leader, an experience he said was an eye-opener about the importance of the country's role in fighting terrorist cells.
"It's my duty and honor to represent the 3,000 citizens who paid the ultimate sacrifice (on 9/11)," he said. And he thinks about the soldiers like Richie Cliff, who didn't come home.
"Absolutely. All the time. There's no greater honor, no greater sacrifice," Redmond said. And nothing more bittersweet. "You look at the families and how they're going to have to pick up the pieces."
The impact of the decade since 9/11 has reshaped the military as it has the rest of the country.
"You have more people joining the National Guard out of patriotism, out of wanting to serve the country," Redmond said, "because unfortunately, we are a nation at war."
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.