Saturday, March 17, 2007

Justin Rollins laid to rest

Before the Army and Iraq, there was high school in Newport, but Spc. Justin Rollins still found danger. He folded his car mirrors in so he could drive faster, friends said. When his fishing line got caught in a tree, he pulled hard until the rod snapped back into his face, breaking his nose. It wasn't his first or last broken nose.

Before his classmates had decided whether or where they'd go to college, Rollins set his path: He would join the Army and fight in Iraq. Rollins turned 17 the day before Sept. 11, 2001; he graduated from Newport High School in 2003, the year the Iraq war started. He told friends he wanted to die of old age or in combat.

Hundreds gathered yesterday at the Newport Opera House to mourn Rollins, 22, who was killed with five other paratroopers last week. Rollins, a soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Samarra.

Flags flew at half staff in Newbury and the rest of the state. A sign in front of LaValley Building Supply, where Rollins's father works as a salesman, read, "Justin you have touched our lives."

Friends said they can't believe Rollins is gone.

"It's easy for people to put off the war and pretend nothing's happening until something like this happens," Ryan Manning said.
Outside the opera house, the fire department draped a massive flag between two ladder trucks. People stood in the blowing snow, waiting to pay their respects. Inside, Rollins's coffin sat in front of the stage and a black curtain, a flag draped on top.

Family members recalled Rollins as an energetic and mischievous child. His relatives used to run him around the block to try to tire him out, said Rollins's uncle, Steve Noel. Once, when he was 4, he managed to lock himself inside a car that was for sale. Neither his parents nor grandparents could coax him out, and they had to call the dealership to get the keys, said his Rollins's grandfather, Rene Noel.

Rollins played hard. In preschool, when he was playing cats and dogs, he bit a teacher's ankle so hard he drew blood, said Terri Spano, whose son, Matthew, grew up with Rollins.

In high school, Rollins played center for the football team and threw shot put for track. Like many shot putters, Rollins was large, and when he talked back to the coach, she punished him by having him run a two-mile race. Once, during a punishment run, Rollins threw up fruit punch, then shouted to former coach Nicole Galloway.

"He said, 'Coach I just puked, but I'm going to finish the race,' " she said. "And he did."

Rollins was a wise guy in class, and he knew the right buttons to push to raise a teacher's blood pressure, said Garrett Partridge, who graduated with Rollins. In history class, he often argued in support of the president and the military, said Bill Thurlow, head of the social studies department.

Rollins had always thought of joining the military, and as the U.S. moved toward war in Afghanistan and Iraq, he made up his mind.

"There was kind of a changing point . . . and after that, he was dead set on it," said Partridge, who studies electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire. "He was the only one who really had a focus."

As early as basic training, Rollins knew he wanted to be in the thick of combat. He joined a parachute infantry regiment that deploys to some of the most dangerous places in the world. He left for Iraq in August, friends said.

"He really wanted to be there," Manning said. "He talked about it at basic; he expected to go."

But Rollins also looked forward to coming home. He planned to propose to his girlfriend when he returned on leave in April.

Read the rest at the Monitor

Related Link:
Justin Rollins reported killed in Iraq