Danny Johnston, Associated Press
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Andy Long lies in a military cemetery in Arkansas, between a Persian Gulf veteran and a man who served in Korea.
While the tombstones around him say where the soldiers served, the granite slab marking the 23-year-old's grave doesn't list a military campaign — at least, not one the Army recognizes.
In the two years since Long was killed and another soldier was wounded outside a military recruiting station in Little Rock by a self-professed jihadist, their families have struggled to convince the military and the federal government that the two were victims of the global war on terror, not merely a random act of violence.
"My son was killed in this war," Janet Long said after she left roses and baby's-breath at her son's grave. "It wasn't a motorcycle accident and it wasn't a convenience-store drive-by shooting."
Long's parents are fighting for formal recognition, namely Purple Hearts, for their son and his wounded comrade, Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula. Before the murder trial of Abdulhakim Muhammad ended abruptly Monday with a plea deal, they sent a hefty report to the Secretary of the Army's office and The Associated Press, detailing why the soldiers deserve the honor.
They say they are not only seeking acknowledgment of the soldiers' sacrifices but worry that without any formal recognition of being wounded in the line of duty, Ezeagwula — who still has shrapnel in his body from the shooting — may have to fight for ongoing health care.
Their goal seems nearly impossible. The award is usually reserved for U.S. troops wounded or killed in combat or in an act of international terrorism, and the Army says neither of the soldiers is eligible. While Muhammad called the shooting an act of war against America in retribution for the deaths of Muslims abroad, no federal terrorism have been filed against him.
Instead, it was handled in state court, with prosecutors arguing that it was a straightforward case of murder and attempted murder when Muhammad drove up to the recruiting station, drew an assault rifle and fired on the two uniformed soldiers.
"Unless the guy is arrested as a terrorist, they're not going to be successful," said John Bircher, a national spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Both the Longs and Ezeagwulas have questioned the lack of federal charges. The U.S. attorney in Little Rock has declined to comment. Ray Gall, a spokesman for Army Human Resources Command in Fort Knox, classified Long's death as a non-hostile homicide.
"I find that offensive," said Long's father, Daris, who spent 27 years in the Marine Corps, serving in countries from Somalia to Japan. "He was killed by a terrorist who's affiliated with a hostile international force."
One of Andy Long's great-grandfathers was a doughboy in World War I, and both his grandfathers were military. Janet Long served in the Navy. Andy's younger brother, Triston, picked the Army.
Andy enlisted in the Army at 23 and had just finished boot camp when he volunteered to be a recruiter. On June 1, 2009, he and Ezeagwula were standing outside the building and smoking when a black truck pulled up. Muhammad rolled down the window and fired an assault rifle at the two young man who'd never seen combat.
Ezeagwula, then 18, watched his friend fall to the ground as the bullets hit them. In the parking lot, Janet Long heard the gunshots.
Shortly afterward, authorities were handcuffing Muhammad on a nearby highway. In confessing to authorities and the AP, Muhammad — who was born Carlos Bledsoe in Memphis, Tenn., and changed his name after converting to Islam — said shooting two uniformed soldiers was justified because of U.S. military action against his fellow Muslims in the Middle East.
To the Longs and the Ezeagwulas, that raises questions about the lack of federal charges.
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