‘Forever grateful’: Medic and parents’ emotional meeting
COMBAT medic Jonathan Walter wasn't sure who to hug first so he tightly wrapped his arms around both of them.
It was a moment of raw emotion - the grieving parents of an Australian soldier killed in action had come face-to-face with the medic who had desperately tried to save their son on a desolate battlefield in Afghanistan 9500km away.
"I didn't know who to hug first, so I hugged both of them," Sergeant Walter said.
The medic was among the last people to see David and Mary McCarthy's son Sean alive on July 8, 2008.
Sergeant Walter's visit with the McCarthys at their Queensland home last month was a rare coming together for the elite combat medic, known as Voodoo Medics, and a soldier's family.
It was an overpowering display of the humanity as Sergeant Walter provided some solace to the parents of the soldier he nursed in his final moments.
When the 35-year-old new father arrived at their Toowoomba house - previously owned by Sean - he embraced them in the front yard with a bear hug as they said "good to see you" and "thank you".
The hug was long but the their time together to chat over cups of tea and a shot of special Jamison's whiskey made especially for Sean was too short.
It was "light talk" to start, they said, about the cold weather in Toowoomba and how they had both lived for a time in Dubai.
But as they relaxed they were able to speak about Sean's life and untimely death.
Before that meeting the couple had already learned of the extent of the medic's effort to save their firstborn.
"They never gave up," Mr McCarthy said.
"We are forever grateful to John and all of those guys."
A few years later, Sapper Rowan Robinson was one of three Australian soldiers from the Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) killed in a bloody six-week period between May and July 2011 and for who the ever-fervent efforts of the Voodoo Medics could not save.
"It's a sad fact that when young men go to war, some die," said Peter Robinson.
"You just hope it's not yours."
The McCarthys and the Robinsons have broken years of silence about their sons' deaths to speak to The Daily Telegraph in praise of the medics, an elite team whose actions have gone largely unheralded publicly.
Marie Robinson, a nurse, read the official autopsy into her son's death and has similar praise for the medic who fought until the end to save him.
She said a Taliban bullet had gone through Robinson's left hand, struck the stock of his rifle and ricocheted into his throat, just above his body armour.
"We know what Rowan's injuries were and we know that there probably wasn't a lot that Dan could do to save him. But he did his best," she said.
"I know they did everything they possibly could to try to save Ro that day."
Mary and David McCarthy didn't even know their son was in Afghanistan until they were told he had been killed in action.
The 25-year-old signaller would only tell them he was going away "on a job" due to the secret nature of his work with the Special Air Service Regiment.
McCarthy was critically wounded when the Long Range Patrol Vehicle he was in set off a Taliban bomb hidden in the road.
For Walter, McCarthy's July 2008 death was the first and last time he had lost an Australian soldier at his hands. So when he was invited to the McCarthy's home last month, he gratefully accepted the invitation.
Walter said the meeting provided closure on what was one of his most traumatic experiences.
"That was a huge part in closing that loop," Walter added.
"It was healing for lack of a better word, for sure.
"It's reassuring to me that they know all of the treatment I'd done was correct and it's reassuring for them as well.
"They know that in his last minute their son was well looked after."
The McCarthys said meeting Walter, who lives in Tasmania, was "really special".
"I think he's coped very well actually when you look at some of the other guys I've met," Mr McCarthy said.
"It's just nice to see that he's doing so well.
"We know what these guys have gone through and what he did for Sean so to see him being successful is just great."