Monday, March 05, 2007

David Berry laid to rest

MILTON - A Wichita soldier remembered for his crooked smile, love of hunting and long courtship was buried here Sunday, 10 days after his death in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. David Russell Berry, a member of the Kansas National Guard's 1st Battalion, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Qasim, Iraq, a few weeks before his 38th birthday.

He had been due to rotate home in April.

"He was just a very solid soldier," Lt. Col. David Johnson said of Berry, who in 2005 received the highest peacetime medal that a soldier can get, for rescuing a motorist from a burning vehicle. "He was quiet, had a good sense of humor. He was well-respected by everybody."

The crowd for Berry's funeral filled the large main sanctuary of West Baptist Freewill Church in south Wichita to overflowing. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Rep. Todd Tiahrt and Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state's adjutant general, were among hundreds of mourners.

Outside, more than 200 members of Kansas' Patriot Guard lined the church driveway holding flags snapping in the brisk, chilly wind.

Berry, a native of Anthony, joined the guard at the end of his junior year at Chaparral High School. He also lived in Norwich, working as a lab technician for Farrar Corp. Family members have said he loved hunting and attending Wichita Thunder hockey games.

Berry's pastor, Bruce Hays of Parkview Southern Baptist Church, said during the eulogy that he had baptized the soldier shortly before he left for Iraq.

Berry knew the dangers of serving there, but he didn't want others to think his baptism had been "some sort of... insurance policy," Hays said. Berry's faith was genuine.

Hays also shared some of the soldier's family's and friends' memories. One called Berry a "loving, caring, silly, quiet man" who dated his wife, Kathy, "forever and ever" -- 13 years, in fact -- before they married in 2003.

Another remembered him as someone who "would do anything for anybody" and usually had a crooked smile on his face. Berry's stepdaughter's children called him "papa," Hays said.

Many residents of the area may recognize Berry because he was featured on a TV news broadcast during a surprise visit home before Thanksgiving.

Berry's funeral procession traveled 27 miles to his family's burial plot in Milton's Eden Cemetery. Along the way, more than a dozen small groups of people lined Highway 42, holding small flags, placing their hands over their hearts or simply standing at attention. The Harper Fire Department hung a large flag from its truck at the turn-off to the cemetery.

About 40 members of Berry's battalion attended the service and burial, where rifles were fired in salute and the folded flag that had draped his coffin was handed to his wife.

Several other members of the battalion were wounded in the attack that killed Berry, including one of his best friends.

Sgt. Carl Mar, a spokesman for the guard, said no additional details of the attack were available at this time. He said that "all the (soldiers) that were involved in the incident are back in the States."

From the Eagle

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David Berry dies of injury from I.E.D.