Tuesday, May 15, 2007

James D. Connell Jr. killed 'when his patrol was attacked by enemy forces using automatic fire and explosives'

The Pentagon hasn't confirmed it yet, but family members tell us that one of the soldiers killed in an savage ambush yesterday is from East Tennessee.

First Sergeant James D. Connell Jr. had called New York home, but he grew up in Lake City.

"He fought for us," said one of Sgt. Connell's children, "for our country."

Two weeks ago, the solider of almost two decades was saying good-bye here at his parents house.

Tonight, much of Lake City has come to help his four children say good-bye to him.

"I know everybody here loves me," said Courtney, Sgt. Connell's daughter, "and they're here for me."

"I'm not going to say I'm doing great," said son Nicholas, "but I'm doing better than I did yesterday."

Courtney and Nicholas's father is the first Lake City soldier to die in Iraq, lost in ambush in what soldiers have nicknamed the "Triangle of Death."

"He loved the Army," one of the children explained. "Always said it was a dream, and I guess he did all he could to fulfill it."

For 19 years he was a career soldier, but to his youngest child, he was as dad with amazing talent.

"He cooked the best ribs I ever have," Bryan Connell said.

Family, was always first in his heart, and Courtney remembers the trip to Dollywood.

"We went on about every single ride except the kiddie rides," she said. "They forced me on all the roller coasters."

No one had to tell Jack Reed, a Lake City resident, to lower the town's flags to half-staff, or that the Veteran's Monument, will soon bear a new name.

"I don't know what to think anymore," Reed said. "It's such a sad situation for all our troops."

Unsettled and uncertain maybe, but Bryan and Courtney Connell are certain of one thing.

"He sacrificed his life in the Army and he didn't only serve them, he served the country," she said.

Bryan could break that down into three simple words.

"He's a hero."

From WVLT 2