Wednesday, February 28, 2007

David Berry remembered

ANTHONY - Almost improbably, their lives followed an arc.

Only months separated David Berry and Jerrod Hays in age. They grew up in Anthony, graduating in the Class of '87 from Chaparral High School in Harper County.

"Happy and fun-loving guys," recalled fellow classmate Dan Bertholf, Medicine Lodge.

For a time, Berry and Hays even worked at the same foundry in Norwich. They also served in the Kansas Army National Guard, and as part of Bravo 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery, they went to Iraq.

But their lives split in different directions Thursday after an improvised explosive device erupted, killing Berry and critically wounding Hays.

Berry, 37, who enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard even before he collected his high school diploma, had more than 16 years' military service. The staff sergeant's accumulated honors included the Soldiers Medal, the highest peacetime recognition that a soldier can receive.

Hays' condition has been upgraded to serious and he was in a hospital in Germany on Friday. He has suffered trauma to his right eye and will undergo an operation Saturday to remove shrapnel, said Jerrod's brother, J.D. Hays, Anthony.

"He's alert, conscious," Hays said, and the family has been told that Jerrod's left eye "has the appropriate response."

Hays, 38, is scheduled to return Sunday to the U.S., where he will be hospitalized. Family members plan to fly to the East Coast to be with him.

Funeral plans for Berry, who had been living in Wichita and leaves a wife, Kathleen, a stepdaughter and two stepgrandchildren, have not been announced.

"It's unimaginable. As far as our grief is, I can't fathom what the Berrys are going through," said J.D. Hays on Friday, able to see Berry's parents' home from his workplace.

"Pretty tough day for the families," said Janett Ballard, Anthony, whose husband, Yancy, is with the same unit in Iraq.

Janett Ballard noted that she had known Berry and Hays longer than she had known Yancy.

Ballard said her husband and another Anthony man in Iraq, Rick Kenmore, were not injured.

As she communicated by e-mail with her husband Friday afternoon, Ballard tried to get him to think of other things and succeeded when she informed him she would have to take down the flag because of the wind.

He shifted the topic to the weather.

Berry was the first son of Anthony to die in the Iraq war. But Harper is only 9 miles away, and Anthony hardware store owner John Schott considered the death in Iraq four months ago of soldier WillSun Mock, now buried in Harper, like a death in the family, too.

On Friday morning, the city of Anthony put American flags on poles lining Main Street and along the highway leading into town. A sign outside the hardware store read: "God Bless the Berry and Hays Families."

"The response from the people has just been phenomenal," Hays said.

Berry and Jerrod Hays considered the mission in Iraq worthy, he said.

When classmate Bertholf heard the news from Iraq, he said he felt admiration for "their patriotism and sense of duty."

Soldiers who hear American politicians talk about failure in Iraq take it to heart, Hays said.

"I would encourage people to contact the VFW, find out who is serving overseas, and send them a letter of encouragement. It would sure help," Hays said.

From the Hutchinson News

Related Link:
David Berry dies of injury from I.E.D.