Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Erich S. Smallwood dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

He is the first soldier with Arkansas' 875th Engineer Battalion killed fighting the War on Terror. Specialist Erich Smallwood, 23, died over the Memorial Day weekend when a roadside bomb blew up near his vehicle. Smallwood called Trumann home - a little town just south of Jonesboro.

Growing up, everyone just knew Erich Smallwood would succeed.

Trumann Mayor Sheila Walters says, "And I remember the little boy who had the blonde, bouncy hair going down the basketball court. He was very athletic."

He was a star football and basketball player, voted Mr. Trumann High School and described as a guy everyone loved to be around.

"He was just a sweet, young man," says Walters. "He was kind to people. I know you hear this about a lot of people, but this has just really touched home."

Walters knew Smallwood nearly all his life. Sunday afternoon she got word he'd been killed near Balad, Iraq, when a makeshift bomb exploded near the vehicle he was driving.

Walters explains, "You hear about the other soldiers that have died and you don't realize the impact so much until it's someone that you know personally, someone that's been in your home, someone that you watched grow up."

Walters says Smallwood had just been home to Trumann on leave two weeks ago. He came home with his brother J.T. who's also serving in Iraq.

Vietnam veteran and Trumann resident Ron Taylor says, "It brings tears to my eyes, just like now, but, you know, I think our guys over there are doing a fantastic job."

Taylor who is the American Legion Post 42 Commander stopped by Trumann’s Memorial Park to remember and honor a young man so many loved.

"He believed in the country. He believed in this community. He believed in what he was doing was right," says Taylor. "I wish sometimes they could send all us old men and leave the young ones here, but that's not the way it is."

Flags are at half staff in memory of Smallwood.

Walters says, "I think he'll be our local hero."

He’ll soon be permanently honored at Memorial Park for his patriotism and the sacrifice he made for all of us.

The 875th Engineer Battalion is scheduled to return home in the fall. Funeral arrangements for Smallwood are still pending.

Smallwood is the 21st Arkansas National Guard soldier killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From WTHV 11