JUNE 7, 2012 10:23 a.m. (2)
Kimberly Hampton will forever be known as the first female American military pilot to be killed in combat.
But her mother, Ann Hampton, wanted people to remember not only her death, but her life as well.
To write “Kimberly’s Flight,” Hampton teamed up with former Greenville News reporter Anna Simon, whom she first met when Simon covered her daughter’s death for the newspaper.
Kimberly Hampton’s story – from being Easley High School’s first Naval Junior ROTC battalion commander to a highly ranked college tennis player to commanding a combat aviation troop – is told through emails and interviews with friends and colleagues. Ann Hampton’s story is told through her narratives of loving and losing a child and visiting the country in which her daughter died.
“We wanted Kimberly’s story to be told accurately. We wanted people to know about her life, not just her death,” Ann Hampton said. “Kimberly is our only child, and we didn’t want her story to be forgotten. I tell people that I wanted something for the nurses to read to me in the nursing home.”
Kimberly Hampton was flying an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter above Fallujah, Iraq, on Jan. 2, 2004, in search of a sniper on the rooftops of the city. The mission – one that she was not originally scheduled to fly – was to support a raid on an illicit weapons market.
An explosion rocked her helicopter a little past noon when a heat-seeking surface-to-air missile got into its exhaust and knocked off its tail boom.
The helicopter crashed into a brick wall surrounding a date and apple orchard. Hampton died instantly of head and chest injuries.
Ann Hampton got up early that morning and went to her computer to check if she had received an email from Kimberly when she saw a news item on AOL that a helicopter had crashed in Iraq.
As the day dragged on, Ann Hampton knew the news she’d receive wouldn’t be good.
The Hamptons heard the official report at 4:20 p.m. – exactly 12 hours after their only child had been killed. The news buckled Hampton’s father, Dale, to his knees.
“I grieve. I miss her. Nothing can change that,” said Ann Hampton, who has made two trips to Iraq since her daughter’s death. The first trip allowed her to understand why the United States was in Iraq, something that made it easier for her to accept her daughter’s death. “I have peace and comfort knowing she was doing what she loved.”
Her daughter told her as much in an email.
“I’m living my dreams for sure – living on the edge sometimes and pushing the envelope,” Kimberly Hampton wrote. “But I’m doing things others only dream about from the safety and comfort of home. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything – I truly love it. So worry if you must, but you can be sure that your only child is living a full, exciting life and is HAPPY.”
Simon said it was important to tell Kimberly Hampton’s story and recognize the sacrifices made by those who serve in the military and their families.
“It may be the girl next door or the boy next door,” she said. “Each one has a story. Each is unique. And each deserves our respect.”