Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sean Thomas laid to rest

HUGHESVILLE — Master Sgt. Sean Michael Thomas was a man not afraid to say “I love you,” according to friends and family.

But his love not only extended to those he knew, but to those whom he never met, said Rev. Wesley McElravy, who officiated funeral services for the slain Guardsman Saturday at Hughesville High School.

“Even if you didn’t know Sean, he loved you enough to lay down his life for you — for us.” he said.

Thomas, 33, a Hughesville native, was the first Lycoming County soldier to die in Iraq. He was killed March 27 when a rocket exploded over his head while he was walking in Baghdad’s Green Zone, also known as the International Zone.

On Saturday, friends, family and hundreds from the community packed the school’s gymnasium to say goodbye. Overflow was routed to the auditorium where people could watch the services on television monitors.

Thomas was remembered for his radiant smile, his kind nature and his love for his wife, Carrie, and his 6-month-old daughter, Alexa. The Thomases would have celebrated their one-year anniversary today.

Many of the friends and family members who spoke did so directly to little Alexa, telling her to ask a lot of questions about her dad, the “hero.”

Thomas himself had an inquisitive nature, according to one friend.

“You were unique,” he said, addressing Thomas. “You asked the questions and made the comments no one had the courage to. Sometimes we agreed and sometimes we wondered ‘What is he doing?’”

Many of Saturday’s speakers recalled Thomas — the big guy with the red hair and the big heart — with amusing anecdotes.

One childhood friend said Thomas was given the nickname “The Mayor” because everyone in town knew who he was. That popularity continued when he attended college at Penn State University.

“If you didn’t know Sean when you got to the party, you knew him by the time you left,” he said.

McElravy, who married Carrie and Sean Thomas just “364 days ago,” fondly recalled an an adult Easter Egg hunt he invited Thomas to join, not knowing the soldier’s competitive nature and love of contact sports.

At the Thomas’ wedding, McElravy said he and another man put in 50 cents each to participate in a dollar dance — not with the bride, but with Thomas, who happily obliged.

Both McElravy and the Rev. Arthur Gladfelter, who co-officiated the service, wondered if it was merely a coincidence that Thomas should be laid to rest Easter weekend.

McElravy said that both Jesus Christ and Thomas were “freedom fighters” and Gladfelter said that this holy weekend and Thomas’ death are reminders that “perfectly good, innocent people die.”

Gladfelter noted that both Thomas and Jesus died at the age of 33. Ironically, he said, the jersey number Thomas wore when he played at the nearby high school field was 33.

Four members of the National Guard who worked with Sean spoke about his military service, saying that “he didn’t just explain how things were done, he explained why they were done.”

Others said that he was the “epitome of what the citizen soldier is all about” and “just an enormous fun magnet.”

One of the soldiers in Thomas’ unit who happened to be home on leave this weekend recalled that their unit was missing side plates to their armor because there were none to be had. He said that Thomas, a unit supply superintendent, stayed on the Internet every day until he acquired them.

The soldier then read a letter from Thomas’ commander in Iraq.

“We all knew this day could happen. The harsh reality is, the International Zone is a combat zone. We are at war,” the commander wrote. “We will not allow our dog tags to be dragged in the sand. ... Big Red wouldn’t want it that way. ... Carrie and Alexa will now be a part of our unit.”

Thomas’ older brother, Daniel Thomas Jr., thanked the community for its continued outpouring of support.

“Sean would have been as proud of the community as you are of him,” he said.

Thomas’ sister, Kelly Gillis, read a poem sent to the family’s home, the final line of which has special meaning to a soldier like Thomas, who was remembered for his love.

“Love doesn’t die, people do. So when I die, give what’s left of me away as best you can.”

From the Gazette

Related Link:
Sean M. Thomas killed by indirect fire during combat operations