Saturday, March 24, 2007

Daniel E. Woodcock laid to rest

In the minutes before Spc. Abel Alejandro helped carry the flag-draped coffin of his friend and infantry team leader, he couldn't help but laugh while sharing a story about Daniel Woodcock, the Glennallen soldier killed this month in Iraq.

Woodcock, 25, was the kind of sergeant who put his soldiers ahead of himself, Alejandro said. "He would literally take his shirt off for you.''

Alejandro wasn't kidding. One cold day in Iraq -- and there are cold days in Iraq, Alejandro said -- Woodcock noticed that one of his soldiers wasn't dressed for the weather.

"He took off his Gore-Tex top and gave it to one of his privates because the private forgot to pack his,'' Alejandro said, grinning at the memory.

And then Alejandro was off to perform a duty he's drawn too many times in a nine-year Army career that's just about over: serve as a pallbearer. He and five other members of Woodcock's 82nd Airborne Division carried the casket at memorial and funeral services Friday at Ford Richardson.

This afternoon, there's a memorial service in Glennallen. As she steeled herself for it last week, former teacher Marcia Dean Beck couldn't help but cry while sharing a story about the student she taught for four years.

Woodcock was a talented actor who played Mercutio in a production of "Romeo and Juliet" his junior year of high school, Beck said. "It was the perfect role for him -- quick-witted, funny, a little bit cynical, a little bit sarcastic, a wordsmith -- and Daniel just nailed it.''

And then her voice started to shake, and she fought to finish her story.

"Mercutio was the first one in the play to die,'' she said, "and Daniel was the first one in his class.''

Woodcock, Class of 2000, died March 11 when a building exploded near his patrol in the province of Ad Dawr. He was the 15th Alaskan to die in Iraq, and since then another Alaskan -- 31-year-old Christopher Brevard of Anchorage -- has been killed.

And so the toll of war rises. The 3,500-member Fort Richardson brigade deployed in late September has lost 23 troops so far, including Brevard. Fort Wainwright's 3,800-member Stryker brigade, which returned in December after 16 months in Iraq, lost 26 troops.

As the state's sacrifices mount in the war, there lurks the danger of becoming numb to them. Unless a loved one is there, people live their lives with few of the interruptions that typically come with war.

There is no draft. Food and goods aren't being rationed. The price-tag is beyond sky-high, but it hasn't yet caused serious pocketbook pain to most Americans.

Then you see the grief that gripped the Fort Richardson chapel on Friday, and the war and its considerable costs sock you in the stomach. A widow with an infant in her arms and a toddler at her side. A father looking as heavy-hearted as a man can look.

"When you see something on the news, it's somebody else,'' said Michelle Peterson, Woodcock's math teacher at Glennallen High School. "Now it is a closer-to-home issue.''

That's especially true in a small place like Alaska's Copper Valley, where there are 120 students at the high school and a couple thousand residents. Today's memorial, planned for 2 p.m., will be held in the high school gym where Woodcock used to wrestle.

Most of the current high school students were in grade school when Woodcock graduated, but that hasn't diminished their sense of loss. The yearbook staff immediately decided to devote a page in the book to Woodcock, dean of students Ron Langseth said.

Langseth had a copy of the page on his desk Friday and read from it in a voice ragged with emotion: "In memory of Daniel and in honor of all the men and women from the Copper Valley who have served our country.''

At Fort Richardson, photo collages offered glimpses of the man being mourned: Woodcock performing on stage. Grinning in front of a Christmas tree. Flashing devil-horns above a young boy's head. Posing on a four-wheeler after a successful caribou hunt. Picnicking with his wife. Kissing a baby cradled in his arms.

Every-day moments in a life cut short by an everyday moment in Iraq. And one reminder of exactly what is being sacrificed there.

From the Daily News

Related Link:
Daniel E. Woodcock dies of wounds suffered from explosion