Friday, March 09, 2007

Mark W. Graham dies of injuries from I.E.D.

LAFAYETTE — Unwavering determination and an irresistible sense of humor are what made Mark Graham the memorable man he was, St. Thomas More Catholic High School teacher Sue Sonnier said Thursday.

“Mark was very easy to love,” the Lafayette teacher said of the 22-year-old Graham, who on Wednesday became Louisiana’s latest soldier to die.

Graham died at the Army’s Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio.

He was wounded while on patrol in Baghdad on March 2.

He was a private with the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

According to accounts, Graham was on patrol as a gunner atop a Bradley Fighting Vehicle when it was hit by a roadside bomb. All other members of the patrol, two soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter, were also killed.

The other soldiers were Staff Sgt. Paul Latourney, 28, of Roselle, Ill., and Spc. Luis Rodriguez-Contrera, 22, of Allentown, Pa.
In the attack, Graham lost both legs, a kidney and suffered third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body. He was transported to Germany, and then to San Antonio, according to a family account on

His wife, Stephanie, and parents Neil and Kim, traveled to San Antonio on Tuesday.

Graham graduated from St. Thomas More in 2002, and Sonnier, his senior religion teacher, taught him for two of his years there, as well as seeing him in and out of her house because of his close friendship with her son.

His humor is the first thing Sonnier said she will remember of Graham.

“It was kind of dry and then when he would get going, he would have everyone in stitches,” she said.

Sonnier said his humor showed itself both away from school and in the classroom.

“That was a challenge sometimes, but you had to laugh because he was so funny,” she said. “He was respectful. Sometimes it was hard to rein it in, but he would.”

Sonnier said she will also remember his determination.

“When he had his mind set on something, he was very strong-willed,” she said. “He was not afraid to take on something.”

Sonnier also said that Graham decided as a sophomore that he would play the role of Jesus Christ in the school’s annual Way of the Cross event, which re-enacts Jesus’ path to the crucifixion.

She said more than a 1,000 people crowded the school’s lobby for the event, and given the social workings of high school, having someone who is not a junior or senior volunteer is rare.

“It’s quite intimidating,” Sonnier said.

She said that the idea did not intimidate Graham, and his volunteering inspired other students to get involved.

“Because of him, other kids followed suit and were active in the Way of the Cross,” she said.

Sonnier said she has had many students who have gone on to serve in the armed forces, but Graham was the first to die.

Jim Hightower, coach of the STM football team, said he knew Graham both from his playing days with the team and as a friend of his son from about age 8.

“He had a zest for life,” Hightower said. “He was full-speed in everything he did, he always had a smile on his face. He always wanted to be an expert at what he was doing.”

Hightower said he remembers Graham as a good teammate and never wanting to let anyone down.

From WBRZ 2