Friday, February 16, 2007

Russell Kurtz remembered

Army Sgt. Russell Kurtz, an excellent student who put off going to college because he felt a duty to serve in Iraq, died Sunday at the hands of enemy insurgents.

Sgt. Kurtz, of Bethel Park, died after a roadside bomb exploded near the Humvee he was riding in. He was 22.

His mother said he was grievously injured in the bombing in Fallujah, Iraq. Rescuers rushed him to a treatment center but could not save him.

At Bethel Park High School yesterday, teachers wept as they reflected on his short life and death. Several said they had seldom come across a student as bright, motivated and caring as Sgt. Kurtz.

"He was a selfless person, a boy with a genuinely kind heart. He thought about other people before he thought about himself," said English teacher Linda Wilhelm.

Sgt. Kurtz took two of her classes in his junior year. One was a preparatory course for the college boards. But then, as a high school senior in 2003, he chose the Army instead of a university.

"In retrospect, I didn't find his decision surprising," Ms. Wilhelm said. "He was the type of young man who wanted to serve his country. He was passionate about that."

His mother, Jill Kurtz, said he had applied to and been accepted by a number of colleges during his senior year. But he decided he could not in clear conscience go to college when other young people were going to war.

"He told us he wasn't afraid to die, so we just put him in God's hands," she said. "We know he's in a better place, and we'll see him again someday."

Even as a boy, Sgt. Kurtz impressed adults with his maturity and sense of purpose, said Jeff Metheny, Bethel Park's head football coach.

Sgt. Kurtz played running back, defensive back and on the special teams. He was no star, but he nonetheless distinguished himself as a football player.

"He was sincere, a good person, a good teammate and a good friend to everyone," Mr. Metheny said.

Another teacher was so broken up by Sgt. Kurtz's death that he canceled an interview. He could not bring himself to talk about the death of one of the school's best and brightest.

Sgt. Kurtz is the first soldier from the town of 32,000 to die in the war in Iraq.

By all accounts, he liked the Army. During a visit home last year, Sgt. Kurtz looked fit and told old friends he was happy with his decision to enlist, Mr. Metheny said.

He joined the Army for a five-year commitment. Early on, he was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he tried for a spot in the special forces, such as the Green Berets.

Sgt. Kurtz was not selected for the elite training program, but that setback did not lessen his interest in military service, his mother said.

The Army sent him to Iraq in October. His family last heard from him 12 days ago. He was at peace with himself, even as he patrolled war zones rife with snipers and hidden bombs, his mother said.

"He had a faith in God," she said.

Like the rest of his family, Sgt. Kurtz was a member of Ruthfred Lutheran Church.

Ms. Kurtz said he had decided to return to civilian life after his Army commitment was fulfilled in 2008. His plan was to start the college career he had put off to join the Army.

In addition to his mother, Sgt. Kurtz is survived by his father, Roger, and by a sister, Stephanie, who is a sophomore at the University of Delaware.

From the Gazette

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