Here are some of the stories of the families of fallen heroes.
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- Chad D. Coleman
- Bryan J. Opskar
- Daniel R. Olsen
- David J. Bentz III
- Evan S. Parker
- Jeremy D. Vrooman
- Jeremy L. Drexler
- Matthew I. Pionk
- Michael A. Benson
- Mickey E. Zaun
- Robert W. Guilfoil
SPC CHAD DEREK COLEMAN – CAVALRY SCOUT
ST AIRBORNE, 101
US CAVALRY – 3RD BRIGADE
BRAVO TROOP – WAR RAKKASANS
Chad was born on March 15, 1990 in West Allis WI and grew up in Franklin WI until he was 15 when his parents were transferred to Georgia. He was the only child of Brian and Shanon Coleman.
From the time he was old enough to realize what a soldier was he knew that was what he wanted to be. All his toys including guns, soldiers, tanks, jeeps GI Joe’s and camouflage clothing revolved around the Armed Forces. He knew every war movie ever made and could quote the lines before the actors could say them. He never met a veteran or an enlisted man that he didn’t love. He wanted to hear all their war stories and he had the unique ability to bring himself to whatever age level he was with. At a very young age his grandpa took him to a gun safety course and the firing range so that when he was old enough he could go “up north” hunting with his Pops and grandpa. He loved the hunting camp where he could play cards all night and hunt all day. Fishing was his second love and he spent many hours on the small lakes and on his grandpa’s charter boat.
Chad was not your usual teenager, his hair was always kept short, his pants were never falling down and his favorite outfit was Wrangler Jeans (with a belt), flannel shirt, hunting boots and baseball cap. He always stayed true to himself and only hung with kids that loved what he loved.
Chad was not perfect by any means, he had a temper and was a little spoiled but he had a goal and that was to be a soldier. He never wavered from that goal even though the family did not want him to go into the military there was no stopping him. He enlisted in the Army as a Cavalry Scout in October of 2008. He went to Boot Camp at Fort Knox Kentucky and graduated in March of 2009. All his correspondence was upbeat, he loved every challenge they gave him and of course he was the designated marksman for his outfit. He left for advance training in Fort Campbell immediately after Boot Camp. He knew when he signed up that he was going to Afghanistan but that didn’t stop him!
In January of 2010 he left for Afghanistan. He kept in touch with everyone by e-mail and Facebook almost daily except when he was out on a mission. He grew more serious as the months went by but he was already talking about re-enlisting. And then the family’s worst nightmare came true, the phone call that said Chad was killed in action on August 27, 2010. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and many awards and commendations to numerous to mention. He made his final trip back to his beloved Wisconsin aboard a small jet accompanied by a Chief Petty Officer from the Navy. He was an old neighbor of Chad’s and when he learned of Chad’s death he requested permission from the Navy to bring him home to his family. He said it was the defining moment of his 22 years in the Navy.
His parents had lost their only child and the family had lost their hero. Broken hearts will never mend, tears will always come easily and memories will always stay bright. We will take some comfort from remembering he was the best soldier there ever was and he died doing exactly what he wanted to do. He achieved his goal in just 20 short years, some of us never achieve our goals in our lifetime. He was who he was born to be…An American Soldier.
Our “Soldier Boy” flies with the angels now and will forever be “Our Hero”.
Flagpole dedicated in memory of fallen Marine
By Kelley Gorman
Sgt. Bryan Opskar always wanted to be a Marine from the time he could barely big enough to get the words out, family attested last Thursday at a dedication ceremony held at the Scambler Township town hall off of State Highway 34 north of Pelican Rapids. His dream to be a part of an elite fighting force came true when he joined the Corps at the age of 25 in 1998. Opskar was killed seven years later when his military vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations near Ar Rutbah, Iraq, as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The Al Anwar Province was pretty bad back then,” explained Bryan’s father, Erling Opskar. “He was on a reconnaissance night maneuver when a IED strapped to a light pole exploded. He was hit with shrapnel between his flak jacket and helmet. He was the only one on his vehicle killed.”
Bryan was a little older than most Marines serving with his unit and he held the rank of sergeant. His dad described him as a leader and a heck of a Marine.
“He enjoyed the Marines very much,” Erling noted. “In war, he was tense at times, but everyone got along with him. He could talk to anyone. He was easy to talk with and work with and he just enjoyed living.”
Thursday, October 9, a flagpole installed in his memory was dedicated. His parents, Erling and Betty, stood alongside other relatives and friends and embraced their daughter-in-law, Leandra. Bryan was married just seven months prior to his death which occurred in 2005. At the dedication Leandra shared, “Bryan believed in what he did. Thank you for keeping him and our family in your thoughts and prayers.” She also said, “Under this great nation, some of the best did serve and die.”
The local VFW and American Legion Color Guard performed a 21-gun salute and then raised Old Glory along with the bright red standard of the USMC. A man named David Larson has spent the last several years donating the materials and time to erect flagpoles where families of fallen armed forces members wish to have them placed. Erling said that the Blue Star Parents (parents of active soldiers) contacted the Opskars, who are now Gold Star Parents (parents of fallen soldiers), about the work of Larson. They wanted to have it placed somewhere close to where they live on Pelican Lake and where it could be used by more people than just themselves.
Erling said his dad bought land on the lake in 1959 and they have been frequent visitors to the area ever since. He and Betty built a house on the property in 1986 to replace the cabin built there in 1967 and have lived there year round for the last three years. Bryan is a 1991 graduate of Princeton High School, Princeton, Minnesota, and spent many summers sailing, racing and fishing. He said that local grad Jason Osterby was a close friend of Bryan’s from the lake. Bryan also enjoyed hunting ducks and deer in this area. The 20-foot flagpole was installed the same day the Josh Hanson Memorial Shelter in Maplewood State Park was dedicated. Erling and Betty attended that dedication and said the memorial for their own son turned out very nice as well. Not by design, but interesting to note, is the fact that Bryan’s flagpole was the 24th erected and Bryan was the 24th soldier from Minnesota killed in the Iraq war. Lights were also placed around the new flagpole so that the flags could be kept flying at all times.
Bryan was a member of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Beside his parents and wife, he also has a surviving younger brother, Chris, and sister-in-law, Rebecca.
From the family of LCpl Daniel R. Olsen
Daniel Robert Olsen was born on March 15th, 1987 in Eden Prairie, MN. He was the son of Wayne and Gwen Olsen, and the brother of Shelcy and Shaina. He grew up in the typical way, playing with legos, building forts, and teasing his sisters. He was particularly good with computers, and memorizing anything with numbers. (He impressed his superiors by memorizing everyone’s machine gun serial numbers.) He sampled activities such as swimming, skiing, skating, soccer, karate, golfing, scouts, and band. He liked to be a part of things, and helped others whenever asked, but he always avoided the limelight. He had a few life-long friends whose activities changed as they grew. A favorite was simply staying up all night, playing video games, and eating pizza. Perhaps, revealed by some tight lipped smirks, there was a tendency for some mischief, too.
During high school, Daniel was part of the drum line, worked at Camp Snoopy in the Mall of America, and volunteered in the children’s program at church. It was also around this time that he began to consider the military.
In March of 2005, Daniel graduated from high school, turned 18, and enlisted in the U.S. Marines. In September of that year he left for boot camp, and graduated in December. He spent two months in infantry training, and was attached to a company at the 29 Palms Marine base in California where he continued training until deployment. The challenge and brotherhood of the Marines suited him well. On January 29th, 2007 he left for his first tour of Iraq.
The Life of David Bentz
My brave soldier son, PFC David J. Bentz, III (lovingly DJ) was full of life, funny, charismatic and a self-less engaging young man. He loved to play soccer, cards, and fishing, especially with his father, pool, and just about any game worth gambling (LOL). His smile and laughter was contagious. He had the bluest blue eyes that shined and the bushiest eyebrows. LOL..when he was little I would tell him “DJ do the eyes” and he could make his eyebrows go up and down – sideways it was hysterical. His last leave before deployment his best friend Steve and I gave him a good luck party and of course I said DJ “do the eyes” and he did..we were all cracking up like he was too. God I miss him…How he did it I don’t know…but I noticed when he was little that his expressions on his face would show through his eyes and brows. One of his closest Soldier buddies Matt said “He wouldn’t come into a room without letting everyone know that he was there. Always making everyone laugh and smile, he was the heart of the platoon on many occasions”. DJ always surrounded himself with his many friends that he cherished and with his witty humor we had many great times at our home. His first dear friend Daniel when he was young was always around and vice versa. They took many trips to together when he was young as Daniel’s mom was from the country near Harrisburg, PA. A few years later Daniel had moved, but they remained in touch as could be. DJ was always keeping in touch with someone. His best friend as he got older and in high school was Steve, with Mikey close second…lol (always the joke). Between the three of them trouble was to be had. Our “Pink House” was the meeting place. I have always felt I rather my children’s friends here at home so I could tell what was going on instead of them somewhere else. The basement pool table was their haven and there were times maybe 15-20 kids on Saturday night. He had sooooooo many friends but he cherished his close few that meant the world to him. His cousin Elizabeth who is only a year older was extremely close to him and was always at my house right with them boys…lol.. My son was also lucky to be in love with his high school sweetheart, Ferg…but because just too young and going away they decided to wait til he came home to move in together. Ferg is a constant comfort to me now as all his friends and family. To say I miss him is an understatement….we all do…DJ was the one person you always wanted around! All of me went with him that day, our future was cut to short. He graduated from Clayton High School Class of ’04 and he joined the military two years after high school graduation. He wanted his family and friends that he so loved to be proud of what he had accomplished through his life. He loved being in the service and was proud to wear his uniform full of pride while serving for his Country.
My son, DJ, was given to me as a gift at the age of three. Soon after this his father and I married lovingly raising our children, DJ and Gabrielle Bentz. While our marriage didn’t last we always held the highest regard in the betterment for our children. I continued to raise my children as a single mother in Clayton, NJ with their father being constantly in their life . DJ was always a small child, thin in stature but at 16 he grew like a weed. I still remember standing outside Twin Kiss Ice Cream stand (he was maybe no more than 4) and he tugged me at my leg…(it was August) and said “Mommy, I want to play soccer”. And play soccer he did. Our lives were consumed with his love of the game and his tremendous talent. I loved watching him play. He would always tuck his arms in and then when they shot was great or winning they would fly up in the air. He always did that – always physically showing excitement. After a few years of playing locally he was scouted to play for traveling team and he made it. Before uniforms were ordered the Coach’s wife Carol came to and said that she had asked the boys what numbers they wanted and she wanted me to know that DJ said number 11. Carol said she asked him why number 11 as most of them would want the numbers of family soccer players or famous and she was curious. She said that DJ said “that is the day my mom became my real mom”. I cried as I still do and now as I write this. A few years before after his father and I divorced, the judge had asked him who he wanted to live with and he said me…that was on May 11. The high school my son graduated from retired his soccer number 11 at his service. We have set up a Memorial Scholarship fund for my son for soccer players going to college. DJ had a drive and stamina that whatever he was doing he was going to do it right and have fun with it. One persona with my son was that he was not very competitive…he loved to just have fun and good times. If they lost a game, he would get upset at first, but real quick he would mention the cool shot this kid did or what he had done wrong. Always ready to play the next game. “he would say with this priceless look “Oh Dude, I messed up…let’s do it again” LOL Always looking at the good in everything. Whether at sports, school, family. Okay…I am lying…he just didn’t apply it all to schoolwork…LOL…he loved school but hated schoolwork. I can still see him with his cowlick sticking up and his hand on his face attempting to the work. He could do it…but boy did he hate that it took time from his social life. DJ’s sister is four years younger than him and it was your classic love hate relationship…lol…but push come to shove anyone else mess with her – they would be hurting. LOL… As they got older their relationship was very strong and hung out together. She has taken this very hard, but since a lot of their friends are shared and she goes to the same high school – it helps her as best to be expected. DJ also has a sister, Brianna, from his birth mother, Lena . They reconnected when he was out of high school. He enjoyed spending time with his sister and Lena too. There are many memories that I will fail to mention but they are all in my heart as with all our family. But the most important one is my son’s love of playing cards. Any cards, any time- he will kick your butt. From when he learned from his grandparents (my parents) pinnacle and solitaire. Our family is card playing , laughing and better be money on the table to win.LOL…DJ grew to love Texas Hold em…and played it with a vengenous. After the service he wanted to compete professionally with cards. And I know he would have. Like he told me I will get a job- something like a cop and start out at AC, MOM and then move on to the big league…he knew he needed a sponsor, but DJ would play for up to 8 hours at a time he loved the game. In his journal from fourth grade all he would practically write was everyday I played cards and soccer…and fish”His teacher said doesn’t he do anything else?” LOL And boy- did he fish too. While DJ and I were busy with everything else him and his dad’s joy was fishing and they did all the time. His best friends Daniel , Steve loved to fish too…but Steve loved it as much as DJ and they would do fishing marathons at our local lake. DJ’s dad would take him out on the boat all year round. His father would go anywhere for ocean fishing. I still remember DJ going fishing with Steve, Mikey,Eric at Cu cinotta’s lake near our home and DJ yelling down the street, “Mommadukes, mommadukes screaming it real loud- I caught big bubba, here is dj at 14 with his bass in his hands huge and almost as big as him and sitting on the hood of the car – I caught bubba, I caught bubba, and so excited and telling the whole story and that mom- get abucket big enough call dad- speaking a mile a minute with all friends chining too. We used a cooler we found and he took it right over to his dads…his father had it stuffed and we still have big bubba!” For weeks all he talked about was big bubba! And shoot pool…we always had a table in our home. Hell he would tell me “put some English on it mom!” He loved shooting pool so much he played all the time his buddies in Ft. Stewart told me you could always find him at the pool hall. I wanted to emphasize to you the importance of my son’s dedication to the army and the Iraq Freedom War. My son believed in his mission and when giving the opportunity to come home he declined and told me that he was here to finish his mission with his soldier buddies. I was the last person to speak to my son by internet six days before he went to Heaven. While talking to me he explained how he had saved his “buddies life the other day” and I was so worried and scared. I asked him about it and he just took as another “day” on the job. I couldn’t believe it. After my son’s passing his only and last written letters home to his sister Elle and I were received the day after he died. I will cherish this lifeline from him forever. Even in the letter he wrote about the incident but he wrote about it as “in passing”. His letter was more about what he believed in and what the American Soldiers were doing there was for the betterment of Freedom. When I showed the Army Casualty Officer this and talked to the LT. The LT. said they were aware most definitely and come to find out that my courageous Soldier Son saved someone’s life by being in the direct line of fire so that soldiers could get help. God this is hard….give me strength..he earned the Medal of Valor for this heroic action It is from this letter to me that I want to share with you what he wrote:
Mommadukes (he called me that)
“Other than that the moral here is half and half, don’t freak out but three of our guys got shot by snipers while we were out on patrol….they all lived but to let you know I won’t lie everyday my life is being threatened, but I am trained and I saved my buddies life the other day. So just pray and have faith, but since shit is bad and for real that I do have to tell if something does happen it is how I wanted to go out fighting for a cause of freedom of America and for the Iraqi people. Don’t be sad, be happy I wouldn’t want it any other way. We have no showers nor running water or hot meals so it’s ruff. But when ya go on patrol and you see the little Iraq kids waving and jumping up and down and giving a thumb’s up it makes it feel worth it and it makes me feel good ya know.”
He believed in his mission and we believe in him!
Within two weeks of DJ’s deployment his father, David J. Bentz, Jr, was seriously ill and on life support. The Red Cross was contacted but even though we tried DJ was not given permission to come home and see his father. DJ’s father did recover but with complications and when I spoke to him on the phone from Iraq just a week before DJ passed away to Heaven…I asked if he wanted to come home for hardship case and he adamantly said no. He said he had been given a leave in August for two weeks and he was going to see his father then. While he was extremely worried and loved his dad, he said he came to do a mission and he was going to finish it and not leave his buddies- no matter how hard it was. My brave son was scared but he faced this with determination that only a spirited strong man could know. He would tell me over and over again, please pray for me it is bad…and I did and I still do for all the troops. But I want you to know that my son gave his life…the ultimate sacrifice for what he believed in, Family, Friends and America…the right to Freedom! And I wanted your office to know that he was more than just a death rate number, he was my son, brother, cousin, friend, comrade to all Americans!
My son was laid to rest in a small town in Clayton, NJ that gave him a true Hero’s service and full community support. It was beautiful and overwhelming but I hope to never see it again. DJ is at peace now where he was raised with his family and friends that he cherished. Also our family was burdened too that DJ’s grandfather, Charles A. Atkinson, (my father) just couldn’t handle the news of his passing and within days of DJ’s service we laid my father next to him. My father was extremely close to DJ and so very proud of him. My father had served in Korea and was given the Bronze Star, like DJ…and they both were stationed out of Fort Stewart. DJ was the first soldier in our family to serve in the Army. All our immediate family members previously and currently have served in the Navy. They would watch Fox and the Hound all the time…literally that was their movie and when DJ came home on leave he had bought Pop-pop the remaster “Fox and the Hound” cd. In my father’s casket we laid DJ’s gift. The Fox and the Hound together again. This has been an exceptionally hard time in our family and may God Bless all our Troops! I would have written this but I have been accused to many times that my handwriting is not legible…even DJ told me type the letters! I would never dreamed I would be doing this…so I am just writing from my heart. He is so loved and as his mother, this was not right…He should have been given his life and let me go, but I know that God has his reasons and one day I will find out…until then I just keep on loving him and talking to him. I live everyday to be closer to him. He was my rock and I miss him! Our family again has been dealt with another loss. DJ’s and Elle’s dad, Dave has his peace as he with our son now in heaven…………..Dave battled his cancer with all his might…….but God peacefully took him home on July 5th, 2008… Needless to say all his family and friends are grieving immensely, In our family’s heart,…Dave and DJ are fishing the great blue………..
From the family of Sgt. Evan Parker
To tell you a little about my son SGT. Evan Seam Parker. He was my middle boy and all of this life he was a total scrapper. He was in the middle of everything. He fought for everything that he believed was right and fair to himself. He always wore a smile, got angry quickly and then it was gone and he moved on. He never held a grudge. He had the most beautiful blue eyes, blond hair and freckles that would melt your heart. He hated his freckles, asked why he had them and I told him that God kept kissing him and he said, I wish he would stop. He loved family, friends and his kids. He was just a neat guy. Many say he wore his heart on the outside of his chest, he would never let you down, a true friend and commrade, and I would say that he made me work for the very title of mother.
From the family of Jeremy Vrooman
Jeremy’s Story by Sue Vrooman
This is Jeremy’s story. I am Jeremy’s step-Mom and Bruce’s wife. Jeremy was 9 and his brother Justin was 10 when I came into the picture. (Bruce had custody of his boys.) I brought a son, Brad, into the mix, and we became an instant family of five in 1990. Justin and Jeremy are more like sons to me than stepsons, and I say that I have three sons.
I’d like to tell you a few things about our son, Jeremy, so you will know him a little better. Jeremy was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Feb. 27,1980. He was a great kid! His smile would light up a room. He was a typical kid growing up. He loved to play and have fun. He liked to ride gokarts, watch ALF on TV, and go hunting and fishing with his Dad. He always liked the Army, too, and thought that someday he might like to join up and serve his country. So after graduating from high school, that’s what he did, and he never looked back. Jeremy became a U.S. Army soldier, and he was in it for the long haul. He was so proud to wear the uniform.
Jeremy took his oath in Sioux Falls in Dec. 1999. A week later, he was at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at basic training, where he trained to be a Cavalry Scout. His first assignment was Schweinfurt, Germany, in 2000. He loved Germany. He took full advantage of his single status while there and travelled. He learned the language quite well and learned how to read the road signs and the train schedule. He saw many countries. While at Schweinfurt, he was the Bradley driver for Colonel H.R. McMaster and Major Rice. He got to know them quite well. Col. McMaster introduced Jeremy and the platoon to the Kreuzberg Monastery, where they brew their own beer. Jeremy has been a fan of that beer ever since!
After two years at Schweinfurt, he was next assigned to Ft. Carson, Colorado. There he met his future wife, Latrecia. They married, and soon after found that Jeremy was going to have to deploy to Iraq. The war had just started and he, being a Cav Scout, had to be among the first to go. Latrecia was also in the Army, but didn’t have to deploy because she was pregnant!
When Jeremy deptoyed in the spring of 2003, Latrecia went home to San Antonio to have their baby. Jeremy took his leave shortly after the baby was born in Nov. so he could meet his new son, Xavier. The KSAT News TV station was filming him getting off the plane and holding his new son for the first time. We have that tape. After Jeremy’s leave was up, he went back to Iraq and finished his tour. During this time in Iraq, he was promoted to Sergeant.
After returning to Ft. Carson, he decided to give recruiting a try. The family moved to Spokane and Jeremy served there as a recruiter for a little over a year. He didn’t like it much. He asked to rejoin his unit. His request was granted, and they were assigned to Ft. Lewis, Washington in 2005. Ft. Lewis is where he learned all about the Strykers. A Stryker is an eight wheeled armored vehicle that can get in and out of a situation quickly. They can even run on eight flat tires. Jeremy liked Ft. Lewis, and was promoted to Staff Sergeant. The Cavalry Regiment was going to move to Germany soon, and he was hoping to go. He had been wanting to go back to Germany again someday. His wish was granted. They made the historic move in 2006. His new base was Vilseck, Germany. Jeremy was on us constantly to come to Germany. There were so many places and things he wanted to show us. So when we learned that his unit was deploying to Iraq again in Feb. of 2008, we decided it was time to go. By this time, Jeremy’s family had grown to four, with the addition of daughter Jade, born in Sept 2007. We spent two wonderful weeks with them in Jan. of ’08. The one place Jeremy definitely wanted to take us was the Kreuzberg Monastery. We brought back four heavy jugs of that beer! We have a jug of it on our kitchen counter – such good memories!
We saw a lot of Germany, ate some good German food, and went shopping. We spent some time at Jeremy’s first base, Schweinfurt. We could see the pride he took in showing it to us, and of his new base, Vilseck. He also took us to the other Army bases he worked at – Grafenwohr and Hohenfels. Grafenwohr is an old German Army base. There is a tower there that Hitler would survey his troops from. We’re very thankful we were able to go and spend that time with the kids. Little did we know that that would be the last time we’d see our son alive. We spoke on the phone many times after our visit, and our last words to each other were “I love you”.
When February rolled around, Jeremy’s commanders decided to keep him back on rear detachment. They needed him there to watch over the base and the soldiers’ families. Jeremy was NOT AT ALL happy about that, because he had invested a lot of his time and energy in training his men, and he felt he should be in Iraq with them. Jeremy kept asking his commander when he might be able to join up with his men. Finally, in June, after much pestering, his request was granted. He was off to Iraq. On July 15, 2008, Jeremy’s platoon from the 4th Squadron was needed to assist a platoon from the 2nd Squadron for a mission. They were clearing some buildings in Kn’an, Diyala Province. They were in groups of threes. There were 12 buildings that they were to clear. Jeremy, being the team leader, advanced with his two men toward the first building. The others approached the next buildings on down the street. Jeremy was the first one in. The building was bOOby-trapped and it exploded. The three were buried by the rubble. Since Jeremy was the first to enter, he took the brunt of the explosion. Jeremy’s group was just 45 seconds ahead of the next group. The others ran to help Jeremy and his two men. Jeremy had no pulse, but the medic worked on him and got it going again. A helicopter came in to pick Jeremy up and took him to the Baghdad Hospital. But his injuries were too severe and they couldn’t save him. The people at the Baghdad Hospital lined the halls to pay their respects as Jeremy was wheeled out. He was sent to Kuwait on a “Hero Flight”. His two men, Humphrey and Mainard, will be OK. Mainard had some hearing loss and he has had surgery to correct that. Humphrey had some damage to his right arm and has had surgery for that also. We later found out that there were 14 buildings in a row that were wired. AI Qaeda took the coward’s way – they wired buildings and ran. They tried to claim a lot more of our soldiers that day, but they only took one. The Army called in an air strike and destroyed the rest of the buildings.
Jeremy didn’t even have to go into the building. Since he was the team leader, he could have stayed back with the Stryker and ordered his men in. But that wasn’t the way Jeremy operated. He was a true leader, and he made sure he was the first one in. There’s no way he would have ever allowed any of his men to enter first. Jeremy had much love and respect for his men. He told his wife before he left that he’s had a good life, he has the best wife and kids anyone could ever hope for, and he wants his younger men to have that too. He really cared about them. Some of his men commented on how much they liked having Jeremy for a teacher, because he was patient with them, and worked with them until they got it right. His unit greatly felt his loss.
Jeremy is being credited with saving the lives of his entire platoon, as well as the 2nd Squadron platoon, because of his leadership. He is a hero. He is also being credited with saving countless other lives because of the knowledge the Army gained from this new form of wiring, which was under the flooring. They don’t send troops into these buildings anymore if they suspect that they’re wired. They order an air strike and destroy them.
Jeremy was given the highest honors at his funeral, complete with a horse-drawn caisson. It was pulled by four horses – two with riders, two riderless. General Gilman and Colonel McMaster marched ahead of the horses. Jeremy was given a hero’s funeral. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. I had hoped to get him the Silver Star, but to earn that, there has to be enemy presentthere wasn’t. Colonel McMaster presented flags and medals. He also spoke at the funeral. There was another memorial service in August 2008 for Jeremy in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with around 500 attending. Senators John Thune and Tim Johnson spoke highly of Jeremy. Senator Johnson called Jeremy a “Soldier’s Soldier” – boots on the ground, and a true Cav Scout – first in, last out. Jeremy was a true leader and a true hero.
All together, there were six memorial services held for him. The Frito-Lay flag and flagpole dedication, also in August, was a very special one, and a tough one to get through – mostly because it was so much like the service at the cemetery – it took us back – but also because both Bruce and I are so touched that the Frito-Lay employees have literally thrown their arms around Jeremy and embraced him. Jeremy is now and always will be a part of the Frito-Lay family. We are in awe that a company as great as Frito-Lay is doing this for our son. Our gratitude goes deep. For the memorial, the Honor Guard presented colors, and Taps was played on the bugle. It was very respectful – and a wonderful tribute to Jeremy. Bruce takes comfort in seeing that flag every day outside the bin. It brings Jeremy a little closer. Frito-Lay is a great company to be a part of. We appreciate the support given Jeremy’s family.
The first memorial service was in Iraq, shortly after his death. It was held at their base in front of a Stryker vehicle. Jeremy’s helmet, rifle and boots were displayed, as well as some items that his men thought were special. One of those items was a Monster drink can. Jeremy was well known for his Monster drinks. When we were visiting them in Germany, we put gas in their car quite often. While I was paying for the gas, Jeremy would sneak in two or three Monster drinks, thinking maybe I wouldn’t notice!
The last memorial service was a healing one. Jeremy’s unit had just returned from Iraq. This service was held Thanksgiving week 2008 at Jeremy’s base in Vilseck, Germany. There were close to 2000 people at that one. Out of the Regiment’s 6000 men, 29 were lost. This was a tribute to all 29 of them. We met some of the family members, as well as Mainard and Humphrey. It was healing for us to know that those two are alright. We also met all of Jeremy’s commanders, both from the 4th Squadron and the 2nd Squadron, all the way up to Command Sergeant Major Martinez. CSM Martinez called the Regiment’s fallen the “unsung heroes”. After the memorial service, we all walked the two blocks to the granite wall to see the names of the fallen etched in stone. Jeremy’s name was the last one. We had Thanksgiving dinner with the troops in Jeremy’s platoon. It was a healing time for us, as well as for the platoon and for the other parents. We hope to go back again someday. We keep in touch with several of Jeremy’s friends and commanders.
Jeremy’s two loves were his family and the U.S. Army. He loved them both equally. He was in the Army for nine years at the time of his death. He is buried at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas’. His wife and children are living there – that’s why he’s buried there. Thank you for taking the time to read this – I know it’s long. We are just so proud of our son. I think you can see why. We wanted you to know Jeremy a little better, and hopefully you do now. All of our fallen soldiers are heroes. This is the story of just one of them – our son, our hero, Jeremy.
Bruce and Sue Vrooman PROUD Gold Star Parents of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jeremy D. Vrooman
Palehorse Troop, 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany
Killed in Action July 15, 2008, Kn’an, Diyala Province, Iraq
Operation Iraqi Freedom
“ALL GAVE SOME, MY SON GAVE ALL”
Addendum to Jeremy’s story:
Five of the men who ran to help pull Jeremy, Mainard and Humphrey out of the rubble earned the bronze star for their efforts. There was a second set of wiring underneath the men as they were working to pull the three out, and they risked their lives doing so. They were cited for bravery.
We would like to recommend a new movie out called “Taking Chance”. It’s about Marine PFC Chance Phelps, KIA in Iraq in 2004, and his escort. It shows the respect shown them all the way from Iraq to the place of buriaL Chance was sent home on a commercial flight, whereas Jeremy got his own charter airplane. Bruce and I actually experienced and felt that respect ourselves. When we boarded the plane at San Antonio for Minneapolis after Jeremy’s funeral, we had his flag with us. We didn’t want to check that, so I asked the flight attendant if they could stow it in a safe place up front. I told him that we were returning from our son’s funeral, that he gave his life for his country, saved the lives of his entire platoon, and is a hero. He said “no problem”. After everyone was seated, he came back and told us the Captain was going to keep the flag in the cockpit with him, and it would be his honor to do so. When we landed, the flight attendant asked everyone to please stay seated. He announced that the airline has had the privilege to carry the parents of SSG Jeremy Vrooman, and he went on to tell all about Jeremy. He said “let’s let the parents of this hero deplane first”. As we got up to leave, everyone clapped. The Captain came out with the flag, hugged us both, and said thank you for your son’s service. On the last leg of our journey home, we were bumped up to first class. We were again thanked for Jeremy’s service. Much respect was shown Jeremy and we couldn’t appreciate it more. Jeremy served under Colonel H.R. McMaster while at Schweinfurt, and he grew to love and respect the man. After Jeremy left Schweinfurt, they lost touch until one day at Ft. ,Carson when they ran into each other. Col. McMaster had been assigned to Ft. Carson, and neither one realized the other was there until that day. Jeremy spoke of Col. McMaster to us often, so it was only right to request that the Colonel present flags and medals at Jeremy’s funeral. The Colonel had much respect for Jeremy also, and he was so happy to be asked. In fact, the first words out of his mouth when he called us was “I love your son”. Col. McMaster has made a name for himself. He’s written a book called “Dereliction of Duty”, and is being lauded as a great leader in the book “The War Within” by Bob Woodward. He is a Full Bird Colonel, and is now at War College. He will get his Brigadier General star soon.
From the family of PFC Jeremy Drexler
I was sitting on the porch one day, thinking about the son we lost to this war and thoughts came to me, what is an American Idol? Should it be a singer or someone that has a talent or should it be someone that really truly is a true American idol.
I envision myself going on the stage, carrying my son’s boots and hat, following behind me only a few feet are two handsome soldiers in full uniform, carrying the U.S. flag between them. One a Marine and One a Sailor, both so handsome, and both my sons.
All eyes are on us as we approach the center of the stage with the light following us. Standing in front are the judges with the names: Honor, Pride, and Freedom. I reached for the microphone, hands trembling and tears running down my face. “I am only a mother, I have no talent to speak of, and of all I have done in this world, nothing is greater than raising three honorable and fine sons”. One gave his life for the freedoms, freedom that we take for granted. The Freedom judge had tears in her eyes and she rose to her feet and said, “I know their names, I know what they’ve done. As long as there is life, they will never be forgotten”. Off to the side a small young boy stands up and started walking toward the stage. He comes up to me with big blue eyes looking up at me. I kneeled down and placed the boots on the floor next to me. He stands directly in front of me. Lady, you don’t know me, I was to be your grandson, but because my daddy was killed so young, I was never born. Tears streamed down my face as I reached out to touch him. All I could feel was air.
Another shadow came toward me from off in the distance. As it got closer, I could make out the face. It was my dear son Jeremy in full dress Army uniform, proud as could be, I could not move. I did know how that could be. Standing in front of me, sad eyes, and a little smile he begin to speak. MOM do not worry about me, I know you are in pain. Do not grieve so much that it consumes you. I am proud of what I have done for our country and I am so proud of my brothers.
I will see you again someday. I know you feel I have been forgotten, but I am not. My father in heaven knows and so do you. As long as you remember me, I know I have done good. I gave him a hug and kiss and he walked behind me where his brothers stood. They could not believe what they were seeing and was stuck with awe. I turned to see what was going on and Jeremy was standing in front of them, in attention and he gives them a salute.
You are my brother’s, I am very pleased and proud of you. I will always be with you and I will be there when you need me. You may not be able to see me but I am there. He steps back a few more steps, raising his hand and gave them a final salute. He clicks his heels and turns to walk away, he reaches out his hand to the little boy and they walk off the stage holding hands and on their backs were angels wings. I can’t believe what had just happened. Could this have really happened? I looked at the judges, they were all standing up. I could not control the crying no matter how hard I tried. I picked up the boots, turned and walked off stage. My sons followed behind me carrying the dear old flag.
Our Soldiers are our Real American Idols. Heroes that should receive are utmost respect and honor. We must remember what they have done and are still doing. Don’t blow off the lives of the fallen. Make sure not one soldier is forgotten and goes unloved. Bring our troops home and take care of them when they get here. I speak with a shattered heart, I beg with all my soul.
Do not forget our fallen heroes.
– Debbie Drexler
Proud mother of PFC. Jeremy Drexler (KIA May 2, 2004 Iraq)
GT. Kenneth Drexler (Marines)
AM2 Timothy Drexler (Navy)
On behalf of Melanie, Dylan, Ashley, Brandon, Sandy, Jeremy, Joshua, Katie, Duane and all of Matt’s family, we would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the Village Of Oliver, WI and the park committee for honoring Matt by dedicating this park in his name.
The people of Oliver should be proud of the job the park improvement committee is doing. Thanks to Kevin Cane, Brenda and Jerry Ruzic, Sandy and Norm Shupe, Mary Kutzler, Ivan and all of the volunteers this park improvement is a success. Let’s give them all a big hand! They will gladly take any donations today and welcome all of you to the meat raffles held every Wednesday at The Eldorado and every other Wednesday at Les Birds.
Matt did play on this park; he played baseball for the Oliver Pirates. Oliver barely had enough kids to field a team at that time. They were a mixture of girls and boys of all different ages we believe Matt was in 2nd grade. His uniform was so big he could hardly keep his pants up. They were indeed the bad news bears. They didn’t win many games but they sure had fun.
Matt was born on October 10th, 1977. He graduated from Superior Senior in 1996. Matt excelled at the auto tech program where he rebuilt motors and painted vehicles. This was all thanks to Jim Bianchi his teacher and mentor. Matt and Melanie were married March of 1998. Matt joined the Army April 2nd, 1998. His basic training was at Fort Benning, GA where he graduated with infantry and airborne training. His 1st assignment was to the 1st infantry regiment in Fort Wainwright Fairbanks, Alaska. Dylan was born in Fairbanks and Ashley was born along the way to Matt’s next assignment. The 24th infantry regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington.
Matt was deployed to Mosul Iraq in the fall of 2004 for one year. Their unit was called the defuce four. Mosul was a dangerous place when they arrived; Al Queda and terrorists controlled the city by beheading Iraqis and outlawing cell phones they had the people suppressed. You might recall when a suicide terrorist blew himself up in a mess hall when this happen, Matt’s platoon was in combat on a daily basis. One day while on patrol they came under intense motor fire. Matt’s platoon sergeant got hit by a motor and lost his leg. Matt was in a building and heard him screaming. Matt went out under intense motor fire and dragged him into the building and had him evacuated. Matt then was made platoon sergeant, taking the place of the injured platoon sergeant.
Matt’s platoon patrolled Mosul daily conducting over 500 combat patrols, hundreds of searches and dozens of raids with no loss of men or equipment. The Deuce Four fought hard for one year. Out of a battalion of roughly 700 they lost nearly 25% to injury or death. When the Deuce Four left Mosul the Iraqi people had voted, they were using cell phones, woman’s faces were uncovered and shops were open. Matt was awarded the bronze star with valor for his stellar leadership.
Brandon was born in 2005 while Matt was on deployment. Matt decided to sign up for three more years. Matt and family moved to Vilseck, Germany where Matt was assigned to the 3rd squadron, 2nd cavalry regiment. They bought a house in Eveleth and Melanie and the children moved home in the spring of 2007.
In May 2007 Matt became platoon sergeant for the scout platoon, Matt was proud and happy that they told him to hand pick his platoon soldiers. They were deployed to Baghad in August 2007.
Matt’s platoon was in night recon in Baghad, Matt said they were driving the terrorists and Al Quida out of there area in Baghad by hitting them hard. January 7th Matt’s platoon and about 500 soldiers and 75 strykers moved into the Dyala province called the bread basket of Iraq. This is an area rich in fruit orchards and farming. Al Quida had taken over the area and were torturing and killing the local citizens.
The Iraqi government forces were scared to go into the area. They met fierce resistance the first day losing a stryker vehicle and a soldier to serious injury. It was the next day January 9th that they were lured into a house in Sinsil, Iraq. A cowardly ruthless retreating enemy had rigged the house with a bomb that had recently been cleared by our troops. Six brave heroes were killed and an Iraqi interpreter named Roy. Six other soldiers were injured in the blast. Quoting Captain Dykema “on January 9th the Army lost several great warriors, I’ve not known a group of more professional soldiers than those scouts”.
Let us never forget specialist Todd E. Davis, 22 of Raymore, MO, Staff Sergeant Jonathon K. Dozier, 30 of Rutherford, TN, Staff Sergeant Sean M. Gaul, 29 of Reno NV, Sergeant Zachary W. McBride, 20 of Bend, OR, Sergeant Christopher A. Sanders, 22 of Roswell, NM, Matthew I. Pionk, Eveleth, MN and Roy the interpreter. Let’s pause in silence for these heroes.
Three months later quoting Staff Sergeant Russel Basset “the difference is palpable. Shops are open for business, kids play in the streets and families walk freely together down the main road”. Matt was a mentor to his soldiers. Here are two letters wrote to him after his passing from his fellow soldiers I would like to share with you.
From the Burlington Free Press
ST, ALBANS – Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Allen Benson was eulogized Friday in the church where he and his widow, Elizabeth Brown Benson, were married eight years ago.
Mourners at the Church of the Rock remembered with fondness the career Army sergeant who died Aug, 10 of wounds sustained in a Baghdad suicide bomb attack. They shared tears, laughter and a call to believe that the beaming blond-haired man in the pictures that filled the service now smiles with God.
“The person who smiles in the pictures still smiles,” said the Rev. Roland Ludlam, pastor of the church.
Friends and family described Benson as a warm-hearted husband who massaged his wife’s feet before bed and left sticky notes saying “I love you” in the cupboards of their house before he left for Iraq. Once there, he cherished her perfume-scented letters and contacted her every chance he could.
Benson, 40, was a quick wit who often used jokes to loosen up tense situations. He was a fanatic for spicy food and fast cars. He rooted for NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Minnesota Vikings and Twins sports teams. He had a deep belief in God and country, friends and relatives said.
Benson was born in Winona, Minn., and joined the Army shortly alter high school. He served for 19 years and seven months, working his way up from ammunition bearer to squad leader, recruiter and trainer. He lived in North Carolina, New York, Italy and Hawaii and served in the 1991 Gulf War.
He developed a great fondness for Vermont after meeting his future wife, who grew up in Colchester. She returned to Vermont after her husband was deployed to Iraq in March to help train Iraqi police and security forces. Benson was buried Friday in the Brown family plot in Belvidere.
Neale Brown, Benson’s father-in-law, said he would not forget him.
“I’m here to honor a true hero, my hero,” he said. “I considered him a son. Michael chose to call me Daddy.”
Benson is the 18th U.S. soldier with ties to Vermont to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom since the war began in 2003. U,S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, Vermont Adjutant Gen. Martha Rainville and Gov. Jim Douglas attended the funeral. Douglas praised Benson’s heroism and sacrifice.
“I won’t forget him,” Douglas said to Benson’s family and other mourners. “I wont forget you. I won’t forget this day.”
The service was fitting for a former Army recruiter. Bouquets of red, white and blue flowers decorated the church. An honor guard from Fort Drum, N.Y., where Benson was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 314th Regiment, carried his f1ag-draped coffin into the church.
As a slide show illuminated images of Benson in all the stages of his life, from blond tyke on a tricycle to handsome groom, a sound system played Toby Keith’s “AmeriGan Soldier” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” The melodies soared over Benson’s coffin. Loved ones hugged Benson’s widow a little tighter. Outside the church, the sun shone and a stiff breeze blew through the green landscape.
One thing death cannot take away is memories, said Aaron Malusky, Benson’s brother-in-law, who traveled to the funeral from the Midwest.
He remembered Benson as a man of integrity and faith, a man who didn’t necessarily subscribe to set notions. While many people steer away from religion and politics in conversation, Benson steered toward them, Malusky said.
He and his brother-in-law had many animated conversations, in all kinds of settings. “Just a simple car ride, one place to another, we could save the world,” Malusky said.
The night before Benson shipped out to Iraq, he called his brother-in-law. They prayed together, and Benson made it clear he believed in the cause of freedom, Malusky said.
“Michael was a giver. He gave not just of his means, of substance, he gave of his heart.
Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
SFC Mickey E. Zaun Memorial Troop Trail
By Cheryl Zaun
At Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, on January 25, 2008, the first two-and-a-half miles of a prominent and heavily-traveled Troop Trail were dedicated to my son, Sergeant First Class Mickey Edward Zaun, for his steadfast commitment to fitness, the Army and the Chemical Corps. Mickey’s dedication ceremony was heartfelt and wonderfully orchestrated. A special ceremonial treat was that five of Mickey’s Special Forces Brothers In Arms were in attendance.
Mickey was a Chemical Operations Specialist assigned to Headquarters, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment (Airborne), United States Army Joint Special Operations Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Mickey trained extensively for his position at the world-acclaimed United States Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) School which is located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The CBRNS Commandant told me that they only accept the top 1% across all Branches of Service, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and Mickey was “elite of the elite” among the Chemical Operations Specialists. I swell with pride for my son.
At Mickey’s dedication ceremony, J.M. Baker, Mickey’s drill sergeant when he went through basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, told me that Mickey attacked every task thrown before him with vigor and often asked for more and that he was incapable of being forgotten. Words this mother loved hearing. J.M. Baker authored a book featuring Mickey, “Looking Out from Under the Hat,” (Mickey’s name was altered to protect his anonymity) and sent me a copy. I must share the inscription he penned, “Robert F. Kennedy said, each time someone stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope” and “Mickey is one of those ripples of hope.”
The Guidon, Fort Leonard Wood’s authorized newspaper, published a very nice story on Mickey’s dedication ceremony Post Troop Trail dedicated.
Mickey’s Awards and Decorations include: The Bronze Star Medal, The Army Commendation Medal (four), The Army Achievement Medal (three), The Good Conduct Medal (three), The National Defense Service Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, The Korean Defense Service Medal, The Humanitarian Service Medal (Hurricane Fran), The Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, The Army Service Ribbon, The Overseas Service Ribbon, The Master Parachutist Badge and The Driver and Mechanic Badge. In addition to these awards and decorations, Mickey received many certificates of training, participation, appreciation and achievement.
On February 3, 2005, Mickey was posthumously Awarded The Defense Meritorious Service Medal and Awarded The Bronze Star Medal (second). In 2006, Mickey was posthumously Inducted into the United States Army Chemical Corps Order of the Dragon Program (OODP). The OODP is designed to maintain and enhance the legacy of the Chemical Corps and to promote cohesiveness and morale in the Chemical Corps Regiment by recognizing individuals who have served the Chemical Corps with distinction. When Inducted, Mickey was Awarded The Honorable Order of the Dragon, which recognizes Dragon Soldiers who have demonstrated the highest standards of integrity and moral character, an outstanding degree of professional competence and have contributed to the promotion of the Chemical Corps in numerous ways over the course of their career.
Mickey was a consummate, anonymous professional who fully lived up to the Special Forces Creed. His gentle charm, unbiased wisdom, strength within, warm heart and genuine kindness will be remembered by all lives he graced. Thank you, Mickey, for sharing your journey with us. We are all better for you having done so.
From the friends and family of Robert Guilfoil…
During this very difficult time we have had the opportunity to experience an abundant amount of love and kindness from all our family and friends. In essence we have lost Rob but our family has grown by many.
We want to thank Flags for Fallen Military for the flag and pole allowing us the chance to celebrate Rob’s life at a place that our family cherishes.
The words below were written by Jessica, who has always held a very special place in our hearts. She describes her experiences she had during the days following Rob’s death. Jessica is truly the daughter that we never had and means so much to us.
May God Bless all of our military past, present and future!
God’s Way of Saying Everything is Okay
By Jessica B.
Have you ever experienced anything that has happened to you that wasn’t planned and it was God‘s way of telling you something? If I was asked this question before Roberts’ death, I would have said no. I have always believed in God and Jesus but the day after Robert’s death, I had several experiences that weren’t planned and it changed my life forever!
Robert and Me became really good friends in high school where we went to Northview High School together and we also played soccer together. I was on his dad’s team during the fall for the city and when spring came around we both played on our high school varsity soccer teams. One thing that we had in common during soccer for our high school was that we shared the number 18 on our Jerseys. But at the same time we would joke around at who played soccer better with that number. Robert and me were like brother and sister to each other and I really bonded with his family too. We would hang out a lot and when he graduated from Northview, I was there to see him graduate and when two years later came, I graduated from Northview and he came to my graduation and it surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to see him there cause him and his family had moved back up north. We have a lot of memories that will never be forgotten and will always stay with me!
On March 3, 2008 I got the worst news ever about a really good friend of mine. Robert W. Guilfoil passed away cause of a motorcycle accident. I could not get myself together after hearing about it and going to my classes that day. All I could do is just cry until I could not cry anymore. When I was sitting in my room before I had classes I went through my pictures that I have of Robert and me. I got one of the pictures and put it in my purse, that was the first step to help kind of deal with his death. As soon as I got off the phone with Michael is middle brother I just had a feeling telling me that I need to go to the funeral. I have never experienced a feeling like that before his death. I was able to go to his funeral even though it was my spring break, I didn’t care what I had to do to go. When I got there, I just hugged his mom trying not to cry. Later on that day after getting into Minnesota, I got a call from his dad asking me if I would read scripture at his funeral. I was shock at the time but very honor that they asked me to read. Of course I said yes cause I really cared for Robert and he would have wanted me to read or do anything at his funeral. On March 11, 2008 was his wake, which is also known as visitations. A couple of hours before his wake, I had my first experience that I had that shacked me. His youngest brother Chris had Roberts’ ipod and you can put pictures on it. Well Robert had about 4 or 5 pictures of me on his ipod which I wasn’t expecting to see. I was really shocked to find these pictures of me on there cause he had so many other friends that he could have put their pictures on his ipod. Robert and I were really good friends and after he moved away up north the only way we could communicate was by phone or by the internet. We both really cared for each other even though we could not see each other. At the wake, the pastor there asked if any one had anything that they wanted to say before he ended the wake. Well his younger brother went, a good friend o of his went, and then I went up there. I felt like I had to say something because of the fact that we had such a great relationship together and that when he lived in Dothan for the short time that he did, he had made a lot of good friends during his short time there. It was hard for me to go up there and talk cause I just wanted to cry the whole time while I was up there and I wanted to look at him the whole time too.
On March 12, 2008 was the saddest day for everyone. It was the last day that everyone could say good bye to Robert and it was the last time I would ever see him until my day came and I joined him up in Heaven. Well when the funeral started and it got time for me to read scripture, I could stop crying enough to read Revelations 21: 3-5. I could not stop crying through the whole funeral ceremony at the church and when it came time to go down to the cemetery saying good bye became much harder. When we got to the cemetery, some people that he worked with that were in the Air Force were there lined up and did not move any. The fired shots and then the trumpet played. Once all that began I started to cry hysterically cause I did not want this to be happening! These two guys that he worked with got the American Flag off of his casket and started to fold it. I noticed one of the men folding the flag was crying which made me feel even more sad cause military mean that fold a flag from a casket are not alowed to cry and when you saw that happening you know that Robert was a really good friend to everyone there! When the flag was folded and given to his parents, I looked down there and his mother had just broken down and started to cry and his father did the same thing. His mother, father, and two brothers were each given a yellow rose to lay on his casket. His youngest brother went first and got one of Roberts really good friends to go with him to lay the rose down, then his middle brother went and laid his rose down, after that was his mother’s turn and she looked at me and told me to go with her to lay down the rose, which was the hardest thing to do and made me start just breaking down, and then his father went last. I could not hold in my crying anymore and that was for a lot of people that were there. I just hugged his mother for the longest time and then started to hug his brothers and some of his friends that I had never met till I went up there for the funeral.
This last experience that I had encountered, I will never be able to explain why it happened and will never be able to cope with it without crying. When his parents found out where he was going to be buried, it was in section 18 at the cemetery. His mother came to me and told me and when she told me I just could not think straight! It made me just die inside in a way because things like that just don’t get planned, it just happens. This is Roberts way of telling me that our friendship was real and something special and that he will always cherish the number 18. But in Gods way he was telling me that Robert is with him and that he is watching over me and God was showing me that he himself was thinking about me.
After all this happened to me, I realized that I need to cherish everything in my life and tell all my friends how much they mean to me. I will never be the same person after all of this and I have opened up my eyes a whole lot more because God wants me to. Everyone needs to cherish everything that they have because it could be taken away from you at anytime. I hope that this story will open up their eyes to everything that is around them and just cherish it. I will never get Robert back and all I can do is wait til the day that I can see him again.