James age 15 was the older of my 2 sons. On July 4,1997 he and his younger brother, Kevin, age 14, were on the way back from the chicken houses. They had been checking on the chickens for me, due to me being at the local baseball complex helping to get the field ready between games during the all-star tournament, which James's team was going to be participating in later that evening. On their way back, they were passing by the oil well and tank battery that had been drilled and placed on our property against our wishes. It had been poorly and improperly maintained ever since it was drilled in the mid-80's. Kevin, who survived thanks to his mother's quick thinking and actions, said there were strange noises coming from the tank battery and they did what normal caring children would do and went to investigate why it was making the strange noises. James went up on top of the tank and Kevin stayed on the catwalk. When James opened the lid of the tank a flame shot out and an explosion erupted. According to coroner James's death was instantaneous, but according to his death certificate the cause of death was GROSS INCINERATION (how would you like to see that on your child's death certificate)? Kevin was thrown away by the explosion and his mother, who was about 100 ft away at our BBQ grill, heard the explosion and several "blood curdling" screams and found him lying face down in a pool of crude oil and saltwater, but could not find James (as his burnt and charred body was still on top of the tank lid that had been blown off by the explosion and came back down directly into the tank on top of the burning crude oil and frying like a piece of bacon (not a pleasant picture, huh)?
James and I had a very special relationship, we were best friends as well as being father and son. We talked about everything in life, including dying. We both had (I don't anymore, since his death nothing can hurt me anymore than it has) a fear of death by burning. So you can see why I am doubly bothered by the way he died, although it would not be easy to accept his death no matter what way he died. Often times I find myself wondering why this happened to him? He was a very wonderful child. He was intelligent, good looking, a talented musician and athlete, always had a smile on his face, never spoke badly of another person, and always did his best to make people happy with words of encouragement and praise. Now I know you are probably thinking these are just the words of a grieving and biased parent, right? Well let me tell you this, and I quote, "It must be such a delight and easy to be the parent of such a wonderful child as James". These were the words echoed to me by two different people, one being James' high school principle and the other a parent of one of James' friends, whom he had spent the night and a day with. Both of these people had told me these things within a month before his death. So I am certainly not the only one that thought very highly of my son James. There have certainly been many other instances I could point out, but these two were by people that are not the kind to throw compliments out easily and were the most recent examples of the praise both of my sons receive frequently. James aspired to be, and I believe he would have made it, to be an aeronautical engineer. His ultimate goal was to be an astronaut. He had always been an honor student, very good in math and all sciences and I had always taught him to set goals and be willing to do whatever it took to achieve them. He had gone to the Space Academy at Huntsville, Alabama the three previous summers and was planning to attend again this summer after baseball season was over. He received several awards and honors while attending the academy. He had also already taken some courses offered at the local college on rocketry. He had done well in these college level courses also. So you can see that my optimism isn't completely based on a parents bias. James also had a very deep understanding of the bible although we were not a regular church attending family. We are a family that believes in Christian morals and principles, but don't feel that you have to attend church regularly in order to live a life of Christianity although it does help to deepen your understanding of God's will on how you should live your life. In some ways I feel that God gave him this understanding to prepare him for God's Kingdom; however, I am still really mad at him for giving me James and then so brutally taking him away. I have tried to speak to many about this anger, but have not been able to find anyone with a deep enough understanding of God to explain it to me. If you can be of any help in this area I would greatly appreciate you sharing it with me.
In closing, I have spoke with some other parents of children that have been killed who have told me that writing really helps them feel better. This is my first attempt at writing about my feelings and thoughts on James' death and how I feel about it, and they are right it has made me feel somewhat better. Any and all correspondence with me would be welcomed and appreciated.
John Bennett (a.k.a. Leroy's dad)
You can send email to John at: [email protected]
anniversary date 07-04-97
date of post 11-11-97