Saturday, February 24, 2007

Russell Kurtz laid to rest

More than 500 people packed a church in Bethel Park yesterday to honor Army Sgt. Russell Kurtz, the town's first casualty of the war in Iraq.

Sgt. Kurtz marked his 22nd birthday Jan. 31. He died 11 days later in a roadside bombing in Fallujah.

In his memory, flags flew at half-staff all across Bethel Park. At Ruthfred Lutheran Church, the 44 pews and 200 chairs filled up half an hour before Sgt. Kurtz's funeral began.

A woman handed out yellow roses in hopes of setting an upbeat tone for the service. She said the flowers symbolized friendship, courage and healing.

But soon her own eyes were moist and tears tumbled down her face. Memories of Sgt. Kurtz were still fresh and painful.

The young sergeant had no enemies until he went to war. He left behind a hometown full of friends and admirers.

"He was the man," said Bob Maras, who met Sgt. Kurtz when they started first grade together.

Mr. Maras and Kevin Mali, another boyhood friend, wrote a lighthearted letter about Sgt. Kurtz that was made public at the funeral. They wanted everyone to remember how he lived, rather than dwell on how he died.

Both said they were as close as brothers to Sgt. Kurtz. They recounted how he would shower his friends with good-natured insults about how they looked or talked or played ball.

The Rev. Brent Olson, a pastor at the church, read the letter aloud at the request of Roger Kurtz, the fallen soldier's father. One part said:

"It was odd, actually, that he wanted us to be happy just the way we were ... So remember to do things your own way, not only for Russ, but for yourself."

The Rev. James Molstre, another pastor, said Sgt. Kurtz wanted to serve his country and felt no fear, even in a land of bombs and bullets.

"Russell was willing to give his life for freedom," he said. "... He knew there was no greater love than to lay down his life for a friend."

But because of Sgt. Kurtz, Pastor Molstre said, he no longer will see the chaos in Iraq as a distant spectator.

"For many of us, this war has changed. Now there's a face and a person. It's not just statistics. It has been humanized."

From the Post Gazette

Related Link:
Russell Kurtz remembered

Related Link:
Russell A. Kurtz dies of injuries from I.E.D.