Despite Separation, Brothers Develop Common Love for Service
By Army Maj. Chad Pillai
Me and my brother Anthony Kalladeen had a rough start as kids. For the first couple of years of our lives, we grew up in a broken home in Brooklyn, New York, before moving to Yonkers.
As kids, we endured several separations, including an eight-year period when I was adopted by a family in Albany and Anthony was placed in a group home. When we reunited, it was remarkable how alike we had become – especially our common bond to the military.
From junior high through high school, my exposure to the military came from my active participation in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. After my first visit to the USS Intrepid in New York City, I wanted to become a fighter pilot and CAP gave me an opportunity to explore that avenue.
Though we hadn’t interacted with each other, Anthony had become active in the Young Marines program at the same time. Despite our separation, we both developed a love for the military.
When we reunited, we were only one year apart in school. I tried to convince Anthony to go to college before joining the military because that was the path I was pursuing. My dreams of becoming a fighter pilot were dashed because I didn’t have 20/20 vision at the time, so I enrolled in my college’s Army ROTC program. At the same time, Anthony enlisted in the Marine Corps. While I completed my degree and earned a commission as an armor officer, Anthony served in Hawaii and Okinawa.
He would routinely call me “Boot” since he felt he had “real military experience” compared to my ROTC training. We teased each another about our respective services and career fields. I was responsible for armored operations while he was an enlisted Marine infantryman who specialized in destroying tanks.
Anthony completed his enlistment in the Corps and enrolled in college. While attending school, he enlisted in the Army National Guard because military service was something he was passionate about. He thought his Guard experience would help prepare him for the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School, a goal he was destined to reach.
In late 2004, he volunteered to leave college early and deployed to Iraq with the famed 69th Infantry Regiment. His brigade was assigned to the Baghdad area of operations. While he was deployed, I was stationed in Friedberg, Germany, preparing for my own upcoming deployment. We stayed in touch through email, letters and care packages.
In the early morning of August 8, 2005, I had a dark sense of foreboding. I felt like someone was pressing the air out of my lungs. Everything felt dark around me. I went into work to check my email and send Anthony a note to see if everything was OK. Instead, I received a note from my biological mother. She had just received official notice that Anthony had been killed.
I was in a state of shock and a bit angry that I did not hear the painful news from the Army. But, since I was legally adopted by another family with a different last name, there was no easy way for the Army to identify me as a sibling who required Red Cross notification. It didn’t help that my biological mother did not provide accurate information to the Red Cross.
I received official confirmation from my unit’s personnel officer and chaplain later that day. Thankfully, my command did everything possible to get me to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to serve as Anthony’s escort home.
For three days, I sat alone in a hotel near Philadelphia International Airport waiting to go to Dover to pick him up. In those 72 hours of solitude, my mind raced. I wondered how badly he had suffered. I wanted to know the extent of the damage. Would we be able see him before we was laid to rest?
Thankfully, the incredible work of Air Force Mortuary Affairs staff ensured my family could have an open casket viewing. I sat in front of the hearse as we escorted him to Reading, Pennsylvania, where most of my biological family had relocated to.
Anthony died wearing the uniform of a soldier, but I knew he always wanted to be a Marine. I made sure some of his Marine Corps possessions were placed with him in his casket. The photo at the funeral showed him wearing his beloved Marine Corps uniform. I knew that was how he would want to be remembered.
My brother is buried at the Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, near where I spent weekends in ROTC training. The story of our bond doesn’t end with his burial. It’s been carried forward to my deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and created a bond not only between Anthony and me, but also our grandfather who served in the Korean War.
In 2006, I deployed to Iraq where I initially served in the city of Tal’Afar. I had an opportunity to fly to Baghdad for a meeting and get a sense of where Anthony and served and died. Later, my battalion was reunited with its parent brigade in Ar Ramadi and I was working alongside Anthony’s beloved Marines. The brigade was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for its success in supporting the Anbar Awakening movement that later became the Sons of Iraq program.
In 2012, I accepted an offer to work for Marine General John Allen in Afghanistan, then-commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Prior to my deployment to Afghanistan, I learned that I was eligible to receive a Gold Star Pin honoring Anthony’s sacrifice. Thankfully, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno presented me with the pin. While in Afghanistan, I had the honor working for Allen and General Joseph Dunford, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
As I was departing Afghanistan, Dunford addressed my brother’s death as I received an end-of-tour award. I shared with the group some family history and the bonds between my brother, biological grandfather and myself to the Army and the Marine Corps.
My grandfather, Ismail Meijias, served with the 65th Infantry Regiment during the Korean War. His Army regiment, nicknamed “The Borinqueneers,” was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, X Corps. During the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, my grandfather’s regiment was task organized to the 1st Marine Division. During the battle, my grandfather’s unit fought bravely as a rear guard element that allowed the Marines to make their way to safety. Dunford was thankful for the unit’s actions because his father fought as a Marine at the “Frozen Chosin.” My grandfather’s unit was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation.
Because Anthony was assigned to the 69th Infantry, 256th Tiger Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, he and my grandfather share the same combat patch of the famed “Marne Division.” My grandfather and I share the bond of the Navy Unit Commendation we each earned while serving with the 1st Marine Division. As a result, my family shares a common bond with the Army and the Marine Corps.
Stories in this Series
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