On Lone Survivor Battle’s 11th Anniversary, A Son Honors His Dad

U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Dan Healy was one of 19 Americans killed on June 28, 2005.

By Tom Sileo Published on June 28, 2016

A few days before the June 28, 2005, mission that would be immortalized in Lone Survivor, Jacob Centeno Healy had a phone conversation with his father, U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Dan Healy.

“That was a pretty harrowing phone call for me because they had been doing (reconnaissance) missions very similar to Lone Survivor in the mountains,” Jacob told me. “They had been getting in gunfights every day.”

Even though he was only 15, Jacob understood that his dad, who had been a Navy SEAL since the early nineties, faced grave danger in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. Still, something about this particular phone call was different.

“He was scared,” Jacob said. “It was the first time I’d ever heard something like that in my dad’s voice.”

As Jacob grew up in San Diego watching his father train for war and deploy around the world, he viewed him as “Mr. Invincible.” The rigors of military life made the time Jacob spent with his dad even more precious.

“Sometimes, we saw my dad two weeks out of the entire year,” he said.

Still, Jacob grasped why his father wasn’t usually around. “He wanted to be the best Navy SEAL he could possibly be,” Jacob explained. “That meant training between deployments.”

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U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Dan Healy.

The rarity of that father-son time makes Jacob’s memories even more vivid. His dad taught him how to wrestle and loved taking him out to play golf. When Jacob was 14, he flew out to Hawaii to spend two weeks with his father’s SEAL platoon.

“It was the first time he taught me how to shoot a gun,” Jacob recalled. “That was by far one of the most memorable experiences I had with my dad.”

Jacob’s father was a battle-hardened warrior, but at the same time, he taught his son that nothing was more important than loyalty to one’s family and friends. “There was no end to what my dad did for his best friends,” Jacob said. “That’s something I would aspire to be like for the rest of my life.”

On June 28, 2005, Senior Chief Petty Officer Healy learned that his friends were under attack in the mountains of Afghanistan. As portrayed in Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson’s bestselling book and the subsequent Hollywood blockbuster, Healy, his fellow SEALs, and a group of U.S. Army soldiers bravely jumped on a helicopter and flew straight into the fire.

Their helicopter was shot down, killing 16 courageous soldiers and SEALs, including U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Dan Healy. Three of the four SEALs they were trying to rescue were also killed during the fierce battle on the ground. At the time, Operation Red Wings marked the largest loss of life in a single incident during the entire war in Afghanistan.

For Jacob, the death of his father wasn’t eleven years ago. It was yesterday.

“My grandma let out this bloody murder scream while I was upstairs playing on the computer,” he said. “I leapt down the stairs and got there before anyone else.

“She just said ‘your dad’ and I knew,” Jacob continued. “She didn’t need to say anything else.”

While those memories are painful, Jacob also remembers the outpouring of support that his family received from the SEAL community, including his dad’s teammates, who flew in from Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world. Among the thousands to attend his father’s memorial services was Taya Kyle, wife of Navy SEAL and future American Sniper author Chris Kyle.

“It was just a beautiful ceremony,” Jacob said. “Just to know that there was that much support and care for his sacrifice was really humbling and fulfilling.”

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Jacob Centeno Healy, right, helps with the flag-draped casket of his father, U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Dan Healy.

In the eleven years since Operation Red Wings, Jacob has made it his life’s mission to continue his father’s selfless legacy. “There were a lot of opportunities to give back after Lone Survivor, so I wound up doing a lot of public speaking,” he said. “That kind of snowballed into mentoring other children who have lost their parents in the course of military duty.

“I did that work for the both of us … I’ve never stopped,” Jacob continued. “I think that’s something I’ll do for the rest of my life.”

For the son of U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Dan Healy, Lone Survivor was just the beginning of sharing the heroic stories of Operation Red Wings’s 19 fallen heroes.

“I’ve spoken in front of every demographic I can think of, and it’s really cool to see how much people care about these stories,” Jacob said. “The biggest thing is showing the type of characteristics that my dad embodied and bringing those out to the world.”

 

Tom Sileo is co-author of Fire in My Eyes and Brothers Foreverand recipient of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2016 General Oliver P. Smith Award for distinguished reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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