Monday, April 02, 2007

Nick Lightner laid to rest

NEWPORT - He conquered mountain bike trails and high school wrestlers. He protected the Toledo Boomers' quarterback as an offensive lineman and reveled in the mud of the Oregon outdoors. He was big and quiet and strong.

It took a land mine to bring down 29-year-old Sgt. Nicholas Lightner, a U.S. Army medic in Iraq. And, even as he lay on his deathbed at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Lightner worried more about the soldiers he could have helped than his own impending fate.

"He said he was sad he was unable to save the lives of his fellow soldiers," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said at Lightner's service on Friday. The soldier died March 21 of injuries he sustained in the March 15 blast.

Hundreds of mourners turned out for Lightner's funeral, spilling out into the hallways of the small funeral chapel and lining the walls. Speakers eulogized a kind young man who joined the Army out of a deep patriotism and a desire to help others.

Toledo Mayor Sharon Branstiter said Lightner's mother died when he was 3 years old, leaving his father, Bill, to raise Lightner and his two older brothers. It wasn't long before the home lost its womanly touch.

"It was one of those households with a chaotic tone," Branstiter said. "There were stacks of laundry, unmatched socks, sinks full of dishes. ... Their ways became the Lightner way."

When Nick Lightner grew older, his dad's father and stepmother moved in and restored order.

"Eleanor ran a smooth house. Clothes folded, beds made, muddy shoes taken off at the front door," Branstiter said. The mayor said she smiled as she realized Eleanor must have greeted Nick upon his entrance to heaven.

"I could see Nick ever so slightly raise his eyebrows at the thought that he'd have to spend eternity making beds, folding laundry, putting the dishes away and putting the cap back on the milk jug."

Family friend Gerry Ard watched his son Nathan and Nick grow up together, best friends since middle school. Nick teased his friend for years after Ard's freshman daughter pinned the varsity wrestler in their living room, he said. The boys were inseparable.

"They were bonded by sweat, mud, bumps and bruises," Ard said, before turning to Bill Lightner, sobbing. "Bill, you did a wonderful job molding Nick into the man he became. You raised him to love the outdoors. Most of all, you taught him to have compassion."

Ard's son spoke next. A police officer in Albany, Nathan noted how safe his job is compared to the terrors that face police officers in countries such as Iraq. For that, he said, he has soldiers such as Nick to thank.

"We owe a lot to guys like Nick," Nathan Ard said. "Because of their sacrifices, guys like me have minor things to deal with, instead of having to worry about getting shot by a sniper rifle or killed by a roadside bomb."

In a way, medics actually have more to worry about than the soldiers they patch up, said Kulongoski, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

"There is no one in a unit more respected and honored than a combat medic," Kulongoski said.

"In combat, when the chaos begins, everyone's looking for someplace to duck and hide. But when the call comes out for a medic, there's one person who cannot hide."

That might explain why, of the 84 soldiers with Oregon ties killed in the Iraq war so far, eight of them have been combat medics.

Their effectiveness in the field explains why U.S. soldiers wounded in battle today have an 89 percent chance of survival, said Brig. Gen. Sheila Baxter, who filled Bill Lightner's lap with certificates, flags and medals, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Medical Badge.

From the Register

Related Link:
Nick Lightner remembered

Related Link:
Nicholas J. Lightner dies of injuries from I.E.D.