Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ryan Bell laid to rest

COLVILLE – Based on the photographs that graced the church narthex Saturday, Army Spec. Ryan Michael Bell valued many things in life.

He reveled in the outdoors, where he hiked and camped often with his dad.

He was devoted to his family, especially Teri, his wife of less than a year.

And Bell loved his country – so much that he enlisted in the Army knowing he would have to fight in a war.

The words, "Our Hero," adorned a placard that documented the short life of this young paratrooper. The pictures – which included images from Bell's childhood, his wedding and his time in the military – brought tears to people's eyes as they gathered for his funeral at Colville United Methodist Church.

"We are here to honor Ryan Michael Bell and his selfless service," the Rev. Fred Agtarap told the hundreds of people who crowded into the sanctuary and the adjacent social hall. "We salute him and give thanks to God for the gift of Ryan."

Bell, who would have turned 22 next month, was among six soldiers killed March 5 when an improvised explosive device detonated their vehicles while on patrol in Samarra, Iraq.

A rifleman with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., Bell died from wounds suffered in the bombing, according to the Army.

Trained as a sniper and medic, the young man had enlisted in the Army in 2004 at the recruiter's office in Colville.

"Colville shall forever be indebted to you and your son and for the supreme sacrifice he has made for our national security," the city's mayor, Dick Nichols, told the soldier's father, Mike Bell.

In an emotional tribute during the funeral, the mayor proclaimed March 17 as "Ryan Bell Day," a time for the entire city to reflect on the life of the slain soldier and to remember others who have died in the war.

Bell's military-style funeral was attended by many from Colville, a town of about 5,000 located just 1 1/2 hours north of Spokane in Stevens County. Others traveled from other parts of Washington and as far as North Carolina, where Ryan and Teri Bell had lived. As people approached the church, they were met by a line of more than 50 American flags blowing in the breeze, each one carried by a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.

Born in Portland, Ryan Bell spent his early years in Hood River and The Dalles, Ore. When he was eight years old, he moved to Valley, Wash., to live with his dad and stepmother, Ginger Rhoades Bell. He attended schools in Springdale and Chewelah before transferring to Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga., where he graduated with high honors in 2003. During his youth, he played baseball and football and helped his wrestling team win the state championship.

"He was a goofy little kid," said his dad, Mike Bell, recalling Ryan's childhood.

After he was potty-trained by his dad one summer, Ryan returned to his mother's house and said, "Guess what, Mom? I'm housebroken!"

Despite the fact that he and his dad were already living in a tepee during another summer, the boy still suggested to his father one morning: "Let's go camping!"

"My son ended up being a very fine young man," Mike Bell said. "He offered me respect, he respected his community, those around him and he respected himself. … No father could want for a better son. I'm gonna damn sure miss him."

Ryan had dreams of becoming a doctor someday and had planned on attending college through the ROTC program. Before he was deployed to Iraq, he served with his unit in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

His comrades in Iraq described him as a "good friend" and a "faithful soldier" who often told jokes and went out of his way to help others, according to military officials who spoke at the funeral.

He also was one of the best machine gunners in the whole battalion, they said. His service earned him many awards including the Army Commendation Medal, a bronze star and a purple heart.

As seven soldiers dressed in uniform slowly and silently carried Bell's casket outside, the sound of a woman's sobs broke out from inside the sanctuary. "I love you," she cried out, bringing tears to the eyes of nearly everyone who heard her.

Ryan Bell is survived by his wife, Teri Bell, of Fort Bragg, N.C., and two stepchildren; dad and stepmom, Mike Bell and Ginger Rhoades-Bell, of Colville; mom, Sheryl Vickery, of Spokane; grandparents, Jim and Arlene Rhoades, of Colville; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

From the Review

Related Link:
Ryan M. Bell dies of injuries from I.E.D.