Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ronnie Sanders laid to rest

An icy northwest wind moaned through tall pines in Lincoln Memorial Park west of Shreveport Saturday, as the mortal remains of Ronnie Lee Sanders were laid to rest.

A hardy crowd of hundreds gathered under cloudless blue skies to honor the 26-year-old Army staff sergeant and father of four, killed Feb. 3 near Taji, Iraq, after an improvised explosive device detonated near his convoy.

A crowd perhaps double that size spent two hours in the Morning Star Baptist Church on Jewella Avenue for his funeral services.

There, a trio of local ministers did not eulogize him so much as employ his faith and sacrifice to urge those still alive to put their lives to better use and chart a course for heaven.

"This is a celebration," said the Rev. Arthur L. Wilson Sr., who officiated, and said he'd known Sanders "since he was a baby.

"Ronnie was a patriotic young man and one who knew exactly what he wanted to do," Wilson said, asking whether the people who had gathered to honor the soldier were as prepared.

"Our days are numbered," he said, standing at a pulpit just behind the now-closed, flag-draped casket. "Life is a vapor."

Just before the service, hundreds of people lined Jewella Avenue waiting for the arrival of the horse-drawn hearse that eventually would bear Sanders' remains into the cemetery.

Caddo District Judge Jeanette Garrett, whose son John is in the Navy and has returned safely from war service, was among them.

"This is out of respect for this hero and his family," she said. "His grandmother requested this show of flags, and it's the least we can do. Look at all these people."

Near her was Lizzie Terrell, whose seven children all graduated from Woodlawn High, the same school Sanders graduated from in 1999.

Terrell had two sons who served in the military, and one, Johnny Kelly, fought in Operation Desert Storm.

She said she discussed going to the service with Kelly, who now is in Kentucky, and he urged her to attend.

"He told me, 'Mom, you've got to go,'" she said.

Patricia Murray stood outside as well with a flag, even through the pain she felt with a bad knee that forced her to use a walker.

"I don't have any children in the military, but I have a 36-year-old son, and it could have been him in there," she said pointing to the church where Sanders' open casket awaited the arrival of the horse-drawn carriage. "My heart goes out to the Sanders family. I prayed for them last night."

At Lincoln Memorial Park, a trio of rifle volleys echoed over a field of flags whipping in the wind. The flags were brought by those attending the burial, as well as by several dozen Patriot Guard Riders motorcyclists, who showed their respects and provided a civilian guard and escort.

Numerous soldiers from Sanders' unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, served as body bearers and as an honor guard, firing the volleys just before the playing of "Taps," and folding two flags that draped his casket.

The flags were presented by the senior officer present, Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, deputy commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, from Fort Bragg, N.C. That's where Sanders was stationed.

Horst presented the tri-folded flags to Sanders' widow, Rachel, and to his mother, Ruth Manley. Near them were Sanders' two older children, son Ronnie Lee Sanders Jr. and eldest daughter Lakeyia.

Nearby, covered against the cold in matching pink-covered car carriers were Ronnie Lee and Rachel Sanders' twin daughters, Ra-onnie and Re-onnie Sanders.

Ronnie Lee Sanders' remains were returned to Shreveport on Wednesday with a military escort. Arrangements were through Good Samaritan Funeral Home in Shreveport.

Sanders, assigned to the 82nd Airborne's 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, had been in the Army just more than seven years. He had just begun his third tour in Iraq when he was killed.

First deployed to Iraq from January through August 2004 then from December 2004 through December 2005, Sanders' awards and decorations prior to his death included the Bronze Star medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart medal, the Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Army Achievement Medal and numerous other awards.

At the funeral service, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Military Order of St. Christopher from the U.S. Army Transportation Corps.

Horst and the red-bereted soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were the most visible part of a sizable military presence at the services. The Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy all were represented. Numerous other people, including Lowe-McFarlane American Legion Post 14 Commander Carroll Michaud, wore the decorated garrison caps of veterans organizations.

From the Shreveport Times

Related Link:
Ronnie L. Sanders dies of injuries from I.E.D.