Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Curtis Hall laid to rest

BURLEY - The faces and names of the dead brought home from Iraq are what you see.

What you don't see are the faces of Iraqis and coalition force members who Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis R. Hall helped save before a 107 mm rocket blasted his convoy, killing Hall and two other sailors on his explosives team. Navy officials initially said Hall was killed by a roadside bomb.

But if you were one of the 350 people who attended Hall's funeral Monday afternoon at the Burley Stake Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at 2050 Normal Ave., you may have come close. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter praised Hall and his family for their courage and Hall was awarded two medals before a procession carried the body to Pleasant View Cemetery.

"He was an ambassador of peace," said his commanding officer, Martin Beck of the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11. "Curtis exercised uncommon valor daily - disarming roadside bombs, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance. You have not seen the countless innocent lives spared."

For his 300 missions, the last of which ended when he was killed outside of Kirkuk, Hall was awarded a Bronze Star for heroic service and a Purple Heart.

An honor guard silently folded an American flag and passed it with a solemn salute up the chain of command. The flag reached the hands of Rear Adm. Michael P. Tillotson, the most senior ranking officer from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state. Tillotson dropped to a knee before Hall's mother, Pam Hall.

She sat upright to receive the flag, alongside Hall's coffin, surrounded by 14 family members - 15, counting the grave of Hall's brother, Michael, next to Hall's plot.

"We present this flag as a testament to his service and to honor your sacrifice," Tillotson said.

Three rounds were fired. A bugle played taps. A line of dozens of friends formed to pay their respects to the grieving mother.

Approaching Pam Hall from that queue was a sailor in full dress. Petty Officer 2nd Class John Richards, Halls' roommate at Whidbey Island, had gone with Hall and seven teammates on a first tour in Iraq. But after tearing his ACL, Richards was forced to stay home when the team deployed again.

Pam Hall's eyes welled as she pulled Richards into an embrace. For minutes, the world around them seemed to vanish as the two spoke with their foreheads pressed against one another's.

"It was the hardest thing getting pulled off that team," Richards said afterwards. "I never lost anyone real close. We don't lose many guys and suddenly when I'd lost three guys, it just sunk home. I've just got to be strong for the families."

This was the first of two military funerals Richards will attend this week. Today, he travels to Lincoln, Neb., to attend the funeral of a second sailor killed by the blast.

"It was a hard day to see (Curtis) leave. It was a harder day to hear he'd been killed," Richards said. "But this war's not going anywhere for a while."

From the Times News

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