‘That was a tough day’; Gold star father reflects on life of son killed in Iraq

Gold star father Jerome Gourley takes every opportunity such as Memorial Day services at Veterans Honor Park at SunRiver to share his story of his son, Army Staff Sgt. Gregson Gourley's death in Iraq in 2006. St. George, Utah, May 28, 2018 | Photo by Ryan Rees, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — During the holiday season it can be easy to get wrapped up in the merriment of turkey dinners, presents under the tree and popping champagne corks on New Year’s Eve.

For Jerome Gourley, it is also a time to reflect on what is important and to never take a day for granted.

On Feb. 22, 2006, Jerome Gourley’s son, 38-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Gregson Gourley, was killed in Hawijah, Iraq about 150 miles north of Baghdad when a roadside bomb detonated near his humvee during patrol operations.

The death of a son is one of the hardest things to endure, Jerome Gourley said. To him, it seems like yesterday that his wife called and asked him to come home from a doctor’s appointment.

“That was a black day,” he said. “I had been recovering from pneumonia and in the doctor’s office when the chaplain and his assistant knocked on our door at home. My wife Judy called me and said that I had to come home.”

Lt. Col. Jerome Gourley, U.S. Army Ret. and Gold Star father, with a portrait of his son, Gregson, who was killed in action while serving in Iraq in 2006
\SunRiver St.George, Utah, May 28, 2018 | Photo by Ryan Rees, St. George News

Jerome Gourley hesitated at first, saying the doctor was running late and had just got in to see his patient, but his wife insisted he come home.

“When I got there the chaplain brought the bad news, not only to the Gourley family, but three others,” he said.

Also killed in the roadside bombing was Sgt. Rickey Jones, Pfc. Christopher Marion and Pfc. Allan Morr.

“That was a tough day,” Jerome Gourley said. “It’s still emotional to think about it, especially this time of year.”

Greg Gourley was born in Murry, Utah on May 25, 1967.

“Greg was a really cute baby,” Jerome Gourley said. “He had a brother and a sister, but he was easily the best looking kid that we had.”

As a child, Greg Gourley had to overcome difficulties with his speech. But his brother Eric and sister Keirsten learned the talent of translating for their brother.

“Although he had difficulties at school as a child, we never had any problems knowing what Greg wanted,” Jerome Gourley said.

Greg Gourley grew up in Sandy and Midvale, eventually graduating from Hillcrest High School.

Described as a loner by his father, his parents decided to send him to Hawaii to pick pineapples. During his time in the pineapple fields, Greg Gourley learned the importance of discipline.

“This was a wonderful learning experience,” Jerome Gourley said. “This really redirected him. When he got back he jumped into school and did much better.”

Greg Gourley served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pennsylvania and attended Salt Lake Community College where he completed two associate degrees before becoming a licensed private investigator. He also attended Northwestern State University and the University of Maryland while in Italy.

On June 6, 1992, Greg Gourley married his best friend, Collette. The couple would soon have four children. At the time of his death, all of his children were under the age of 10.

“Greg found that school was expensive and life was expensive and he began looking at the Utah National Guard,” Jerome Gourley said. “The guard was paying a large bonus for enlistment as a good part-time job.”

His choice to join the National Guard was surprising to many family members. In high school, Greg Gourley knew he didn’t want to have anything to do with the military, his father said.

“I think the principal reason for this was his brother had joined the service and had a lot of motivation to become an Army doctor,” Jerome Gourley said. “But Greg came full circle of being a little envious of his brother’s accomplishments and decided he could do something for his family in uniform.”

Greg Gourley enlisted in the guard and served with 1457th Engineer Battalion during Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait.

“Fortunately, he was never called into combat,” Jerome Gourley said. “They spent their time in Germany training in preparation for six months.”

Upon returning home, Greg Gourley had a heartfelt conversation with his father, saying, “Dad, I don’t want to be an engineer anymore,” Jerome Gourley said.

What his son wanted to do, was jump out of airplanes.

“He didn’t need my permission, but with his wife’s blessing he transferred into the National Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group (headquartered in Draper, Utah) where he became jump certified,” Jerome Gourley said.

Following airborne training, Greg Gourley enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the famed 101st Airborne Division, also known as the Screaming Eagles. Because of his age, the men in his squad would affectionately call him “grandpa.”

“He was a very gentle person,” his grandmother, Adena Gourley, told the Salt Lake Tribune in a 2006 interview. “He had a great desire to be an outstanding soldier and an outstanding man. He wanted to be a father that his children could be proud of.”

Greg Gourley’s military career would span nearly 17 years. He would serve two tours in Iraq. He was the recipient of numerous military awards and citations including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Meritorious Medal.

Jerome Gourley spoke to his son on the phone about two weeks prior to his death. As a retired Army lieutenant colonel, he gave his son a commanding officer’s advice, to stay safe and look after the men in his squad.

“He told me not to worry and that they would be alright,” he said. “We were, and we still are, very proud of Greg.”

Greg Gourley is buried at the Murray City Cemetery. He was laid to rest with full military honors.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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