Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ryan Russell laid to rest

AYDEN – Family, friends and a community gave Army Spc. Ryan Russell a hero's burial Friday.

The 20-year-old died March 5 in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was assisting a group of injured soldiers. Five others were killed in the attack.

On Friday, soldiers, veterans and area residents lined Third Street as the young combat medic was taken to his final resting place in Ayden Cemetery.

At Veteran's Memorial Park, adults and children holding U.S. flags waited beside soldiers standing at attention.

Downtown businesses stopped as shopkeepers and employees offered their respects. At Bum's Restaurant, a man with an apron tied around his waist was among those who congregated on the sidewalk. Town employees gathered on another corner, including the town manager who, along with Mayor Steve Tripp, attended Russell's funeral.

A few people stood in their yards or on their porches, including a young man in uniform who firmly saluted the funeral procession.

Law enforcement officers from Ayden, Winterville and the Pitt County Sheriff's Office waited on every corner. The funeral procession was led by motorcyclists trailing flags, members of the Patriot Guard Riders of North Carolina, a group devoted to attending the funerals of military men and women to offer their respects.

"Because of men like Ryan, America is still standing strong today," said the Rev. Kenneth Johnson, pastor of Nashville Praise and Worship Center.

Ryan attended the church with his family before his mother moved to Ayden.

Johnson, along with Lt. Col. Morris Goins, who commanded Russell's unit in Iraq, spoke at the funeral.

Goins remembered a young man who was always ready to rush to the aid of someone in need, whether they had a physical injury or just needed a smile.

Once, while Goins was calling for backup, he said he was surprised to look up and see Russell already running toward an injured Iraqi police officer. Another time, Russell was so concerned for an injured Iraqi girl, Goins said he wanted to take her back so she could receive additional treatment.

Goins said Russell, whom he called "Doc," also enjoyed playing soccer with the Iraqi children.

"He believed in something bigger than himself, " Goins said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Johnson, who remembered a younger, mischievous Russell who was active in the Royal Rangers, a religious scouting organization.

Russell joined the Army at 18. It was after 9/11, and he knew the danger the job held, Johnson said. Earlier this year, Russell had re-enlisted for an additional five years.

"Ryan gave his life for his country and for his friends," Johnson said.

On Friday, hundreds of those friends, ones he knew and others he never met, attended his burial, which included three rifle volleys and a bugler playing "Taps."

A general presented Russell's family with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart the solider earned.

Read the rest at the Bulletin

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