Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Brett Walton laid to rest

TIGARD -- Brett Walton knew where he was going, believed he was called to it, in fact. "I think this is the Lord's will for my life," he told an elder in the Solid Rock Church when he began thinking about joining the Army. "How do I know?"

After all, he was 36 and had a wife and their 5-year-old daughter to think about. Truck drivers like him were likely to end up driving military vehicles, and roadside bombs have taken more American lives than any other insurgent tactic.

Elder Steve Marshman asked Walton if he'd prayed about it, and he had.

Well, Marshman told him, you'll know the Lord is speaking if you attain a peace about it that surpasses understanding.

"I have a peace," Walton answered, "but I'm scared I might die."

Nonetheless, he put his affairs in order, got himself into good enough shape to pass the physical and joined the Army in September 2006. He deployed to Iraq on March 10 and died April 9 at age 37 when a roadside bomb blew up the Humvee he was driving in Baghdad. Pfc. Walton was the 95th armed services member with close ties to Oregon or southwest Washington to die in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On Monday, dozens of friends and family members gathered at Solid Rock Church to give Walton the kind of Christian send-off he'd requested: A joyful celebration of a life well-lived, accompanied by a rocking six-piece worship band and infused with the belief that Walton is smiling down from above.

"Brett's last breath in that Humvee in Iraq was his first breath in heaven," Pastor Phil Comer said. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord.

"It's a temporary separation, Lindsay, and there's going to be a great reunion," he told Walton's widow, who nodded in agreement.

Marshman, the church elder, delivered the eulogy. Walton, he said, was a loving husband and father, a tough hockey player, a gleeful video game player and a genuine, giving man with a contagious smile.

When he joined the military, Walton bought a Bible that would fit into the pocket of his Army cargo pants, Marshman related. It wasn't found among his effects at the base, which Marshman said pleased Lindsay Walton when she heard of it.

"That means he had it with him," Marshman quoted her as saying. "He probably died with the Bible in his pocket."

In e-mails to family and friends from Iraq, Walton voiced concern for the children he'd encountered and asked for items to give them. He handed out water, candy, food and gum to Iraqi children. "All the way on the other end of the world, people know Brett Walton," said Dave Junkin, one of his friends.

The church band closed the service with a thumping version of an old hymn, "I'll Fly Away." The crowd rose to sing along. Lindsay Walton clapped in time to the music, and daughter, Sydney, danced beside her.

Then a six-member Army honor guard picked up Brett Walton's flag-draped casket and an attendant clanked open a roll-up door on the east side of the industrial building that the Solid Rock Church occupies. Sunlight poured in. The back-lit honor guard carried the casket into the light, turned a corner and was gone.

Burial was at Willamette National Cemetery.

From the Oregonian

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Brett A. Walton dies of injuries from I.E.D.