Separating Soldier Dies Rescuing DD-214
FAYETTEVILLE, NC — A soldier has died after being struck by a vehicle on Skibo Road, mere minutes after having left the Army, military officials reported.
Police said the cause of the accident was the soldier's attempt at retrieving his DD-214 form, which had blown out of his car and into traffic.
Specialist David Willis, 22, completed his four-year enlistment Monday. After completing out-processing paperwork, he packed his car and left Ft. Bragg to begin transition leave, a period of excused absence used in conjunction with separation from the military.
Eyewitnesses said that Willis was honking his horn and fist pumping in apparent celebration of his new freedom.
"We were stopped at a red light, and I saw this guy [Willis] jamming to the Black Eyed Peas' 'I Got a Feeling,'" motorist Frank Tomlin said. "He was just blaring the shit out of it on his speakers, singing along, with his windows rolled down so that everybody could hear him."
The open windows, however, would prove to be fatal. Tomlin said that a gust of wind blew a stack of papers out of the car, and a visibly panicked Willis jumped out to recover them.
"He had his hands on his head and kept saying, 'No no no no no," Tomlin said. "He was running around in the middle of the road frantically until he grabbed one sheet of paper and looked at it and smiled."
The paper turned out to be Willis' Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, more commonly known among troops as the DD-214 form.
Willis' smile didn't last long. Before he could get back in his car, Willis was struck by a SUV and, according to coroners' reports, died almost instantly.
When emergency crews showed up, they discovered that the force of the impact had knocked Willis out of his shoes. They also discovered that Willis was still clutching his DD-214.
"It's like he had a kung-fu grip on [the DD-214]," paramedic Angel Castillo said. "Like, he wasn't letting go of that thing for anything in the world."
Police are not releasing the name of the driver, but said they are not planning to file any charges against him.
Specialist Dave Calzo, who has known Willis since their days together at Advanced Individual Training (AIT), said that Willis has been looking forward to completing his four-year enlistment for over three and a half years.
"It's just so tough to think that Willis finally reached his dream of getting out, only to have this happen," Calzo said.
Wiping away tears, Calzo said, "Well, at least he died doing what he loved: not being in the Army."