Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chris North remembered

EAST MANATEE --As 10-year-old Blair North enthusiastically read a speech she had written about her older brother, Chris, her father smiled with pride as he fought back tears.

"I want to tell you about someone special to me, my brother Chris," the smiling, blonde-haired girl said, reading from a copy of the speech she had written a few months ago for a school contest. "My oldest brother Chris is not only funny, but he is brave."

Her father, Mark North, quickly glanced down at the kitchen table of their River Club home, trying to control his emotions.

This past weekend, Mark North and his family learned his 21-year-old son, U.S. Army Pfc. Christopher M. North, had been killed in Iraq.

Chris, a 2003 Lakewood Ranch High School graduate, joined the Army about two years ago and was three months into his first tour of duty when an improvised explosive device blew up his vehicle in Baghdad.

Earlier this year, Blair decided to write a speech about Chris for a competition at St. Stephen's Episcopal School.

The speech describes Chris and his 14-year-old brother, Dalton, playing tricks on Blair, such as making her eat a sandwich that secretly contained orange dishwashing soap.

But it also expresses the concern her family had for Chris' safety.

"My brother Dalton is very frightened, but he doesn't like to talk about it," Blair said, reading from the speech. "My dad is very proud of Chris, but I can tell he is very upset also."

"As for me, I hope that he will not be hurt," Blair added. "I think about him all the time."

Blair concludes the speech by asking everyone to remember the soldiers in Iraq.

"I hope you will keep our soldiers in your hearts," Blair read, "because now you too know a soldier . . . my brother Chris."

The speech earned Blair a third-place finish in the competition.

"The day before Chris died, that was the day that they told me what place I got, so I never got to tell him," Blair said. "I wanted to tell him. He was a cool brother."

While Chris was Blair's outgoing older brother whom she loved dearly, Mark North said he is most concerned about how his 14-year-old son, Dalton, is coping with the news.

"He is the one that is taking it the hardest," Mark North said, as Dalton walked into the kitchen. "They had an unbelievable connection."

Sitting down at the kitchen table, Dalton, who is known at school as an outstanding public speaker, struggled to find the words to describe the deep connection he and Chris shared.

"The bond we had was pretty much more than brothers. We were great friends," Dalton said. "We were really goofy. Laughing together. We always found stupid stuff to laugh at."

During family trips to the snowy mountains of Colorado, Mark North said he would only see glimpses of his two sons as they raced down the slopes on snowboards.

"We would just ditch them," Dalton said, laughing.

"It didn't take much," Mark North replied. "I never saw the two of them."

Unlike many older brothers, Chris enjoyed having his younger brother by his side.

"One night, when he was home on leave, he was going to go out with a bunch of friends, but I wanted to hang out with him," Dalton said. "So, instead of going out with his friends, he brought all of his friends over so he could hang out with all of us."

The North family home was filled with friends visiting Chris that night.

"We had I don't know how many kids in the house and I don't know for how long because I finally went to sleep," said Mark North, as Dalton's eyes began to fill with tears. "When I woke up the next morning, I think Dalton was still sleeping on the couch. Chris knew Dalton couldn't go out with him, so he brought his friends over here."

Dalton has asked to say a few words about his older brother at the funeral. Arrangements for the funeral have not yet been finalized, but Mark North said Toale Brothers Funeral Home has been retained, and the burial will be held in Sarasota Memorial Park.

Mark North also found out this week the soldiers in Chris' platoon are planning to honor him Thursday.

"His platoon is going to have a memorial service Thursday and they are going to send a recording of it to us," Mark North said. "According to his platoon leader, he was well-liked and it has been a real shock for them."

When asked his feelings about the Iraq war, Mark North said he is committed to supporting the troops.

"I think the war is going on a little too long, but I don't think we need to be rolling back and having some funding issues now," he said. "We have got to stay with it. Are we going to go back in 10 more years and do it over again?"

However, Mark North said he does have concerns about the way the war is being handled.

"I do feel like we are fighting their war and not our war," he said. "I'm not a West Point grad, but something is not going our way."

As cars drove past the Norths' home, dozens of small American flags lining the road reminded neighbors of the family's loss.

Randy Cowart, who lives next door to the North family, remembered speaking to Chris in December and asking him about joining the military.

"It was tough because I had just seen him during Christmas and had talked to him probably 15 or 20 minutes. He had his uniform on," Cowart said. "I asked him, 'Why did you want to join the military?' He said he wanted to do something on his own and do something different. I was proud of him."

When Cowart moved to River Club five years ago, Chris was still in high school.

"Chris was a junior and then a senior at that time," Cowart said. "I didn't see him a lot because he was an active teenager, but I've talked to him since he's been in the Army a couple of times. He was really energetic and a great kid."

The biggest concern Cowart had about Chris was his love for fast motorcycles.

"He had a motorcycle and he was a little wild on it," Cowart said laughing. "I always wanted him to slow down."

The North family also tried to get Chris to wear his helmet when riding his motorcycle, but had little success.

"We would holler at him, 'Put on your helmet,' " Mark North said, laughing. "And I don't know how many times he would come riding up with his helmet strapped to his side. That was Chris."

From the Bradenton Herald

Related Link:
Christopher M. North dies from 'wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using an improvised explosive device and small arms'