Monday, March 05, 2007

Kenny Van Slyke remembered

As a kid, Bufford "Kenny" VanSlyke's smile could get him out of a pickle. As a football referee, his grin would disarm angry coaches.

Amid the gunfire of Iraq, however, Kenny VanSlyke was up against it. He would laugh even in adversity, but he was scared when he called home just after Christmas.

U.S. Marine Pfc. VanSlyke, 22, of Bay City, died after being shot Tuesday night in Fallujah. He leaves behind his wife, Kortni (Morse) VanSlyke, and their 4-month-old son, Kaiden.

"He always had that smile on his face, and it could brighten up a room," said his mother, Cindy L. Fisher, 44, of Bay City.

Family members said a sniper firing from an elevated position struck VanSlyke in the shoulder, and the bullet exitedthrough his lower back, according to a Marine gunnery sergeant.

Stapish Cederberg Funeral Home East, 955 Pine Road, Essexville, will handle funeral arrangements, with details on services announced later.

VanSlyke arrived in Iraq in mid-December, and the first time he called home, Cindy Fisher heard gunshots in the background.

"Kenny was scared," Cindy Fisher said. "He wouldn't tell me that, because he was always trying to be strong for me. But he told his dad and his brothers.

"His biggest fear was that he wouldn't be able to come home and see his family. He loved that baby so much. Kenny's face just lit up when he talked to that baby, and that baby's face would light up, too.

"He knew who his daddy was."

Although Cindy Fisher and VanSlyke's stepfather, Bill Fisher, both served in the U.S. Navy, VanSlyke joined the Marines for economic reasons, relatives said.

"There weren't many jobs around here so he went into the (U.S. Marine Corps) Reserves," Cindy Fisher said. "He wanted to go into the military to support his family. He didn't want to go to Iraq, but he knew he had to."

VanSlyke's mother-in-law, Ashley Morse of Monitor Township, said Kenny VanSlyke hoped to become a state police trooper or conservation officer, using government money to pay for college after returning home from military duty.

Cindy Fisher said her son "had an awesome spirit - he was my daredevil, and he would try anything."

Bill Fisher, who spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy, said he urged his stepson to join the Navy, but VanSlyke went his own way.

"It was our desire that if he was going in, that he go into the Navy, but he had a conversation with me," Bill Fisher said. "He said 'Dad, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to go all the way with this. I'm going to be the best Marine."'

Survivors also include his father and stepmother, Keith D. and Tricia VanSlyke, of Spokane, Wash., his brother, Keith VanSlyke, of Spokane, Wash.; his half brother, Nate Fisher of Bay City; and his half sisters, twins Gini and Bobbi Fisher of Bay City.

VanSlyke's good friend and second cousin, U.S. Army Pfc. Dominic Prankienas of Bay City, "were inseparable," Cindy Fisher said.

Prankienas, stationed in Texas and set to go to Iraq himself in a few weeks, "was crushed when he found out what happened" to VanSlyke, said Derek Prankienas, 17, Dominic's brother.

Kenny VanSlyke worked for a number of years as a referee at high-school football games, and looked forward to referee work again this fall after returning from Iraq, Bill Fisher said.

Bill Fisher said his stepson's death has not shaken his family's religious beliefs or their belief in their son's purpose in Iraq.

"We understand the reasoning, that God had a plan for Kenny, and although we don't always agree with his plans, our faith is still there," Bill Fisher said.

"We are there to protect the freedom of the United States, and Kenny gave his life in protecting that freedom. The people in the area here may not agree with the reasons we're over there, but Kenny was a true Marine."

Bobbi Fisher, 15, Kenny VanSlyke's half sister, said Kenny called home several times each week.
"Everybody used to tease him that he was a mamma's boy," Cindy Fisher said. "But he always made sure that I was all right."

Cindy Fisher said she just missed her son's last telephone call home on Sunday when he spoke with two siblings.

She said her son chuckled more than once, though, at the sound of her emotional voice recording the following message, the one posted on the family answering machine:

"You've reached the Fisher residence. If this is Kenny, Kenny, I just want to tell you that I love you bunches and I'm sorry I missed your call, and I hope to get to talk to you soon.

"I love you. Bye."

From the BC Times

Related Link:
Kenny (Buford K.) Van Slyke slain by sniper