Thursday, May 24, 2007

Joey (Robert J.) Montgomery Jr. dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit'

SCOTTSBURG, Ind. — When Joey Montgomery finally comes home, the city will give him a hero's welcome.

Flags will be lowered to half-staff. The marquees in town will shout his name. And people across the community who raised him and sent him off to serve his country will show how much they loved him.

They're going to line McClain Avenue, the main drag, as the Army sergeant's body is escorted through town.

Details about Robert Joe Montgomery II's death in Iraq on Tuesday are sketchy. The Army told Gail Bond, Montgomery's mother and the sister of Scottsburg Mayor Bill Graham, that her 29-year-old son died on a mission in Baghdad dealing with underground explosives.

Montgomery stepped on a wire that triggered a blast and was killed instantly, Graham said the Army told family members.

"We're numb," Bond said today as she hugged friends and relatives who dropped by her South Street home. A friend came through the back door with a case of Diet Coke and a carton of cigarettes.

Expressions of sympathy have flooded the family. Montgomery's closest buddies showed up at 5 a.m. the day they heard the news and erected a flagpole in Bond's front yard.

They also sent a large bouquet of flowers, signed "the guys."

"I raised all of them," Bond said.

A memorial has blossomed around the pole. American flags, flowers and a small bench now decorate the front lawn.

A red, white and blue banner embroidered with Montgomery's name — another gift — was hung on Bond's garage this morning.

This weekend, the Army will fly Montgomery's wife, Missy, and children Little Joe, 7; Skyla, 9; and Ella, 2; from Fort Richardson in Alaska, where the couple had made their home.

Micah Montgomery, Joey's older brother who also is serving in the Army in Iraq, is escorting the body home.

Joey Montgomery was remembered as a free spirit, a caring guy who found his share of trouble as a teen and then turned his life around when he joined the Army.

"We got into trouble and out of a lot of trouble," said Ryan Heacock, 29, who had asked Joey to be the best man when he gets married in July 2008.

Relatives believe Joey was sent to them as a gift following another tragedy in the family. They found out Bond, then 37, was pregnant a day after burying Joey's father, Robert Joe Montgomery, following a 1977 car wreck.

Joey had fiery red hair and big blue eyes — looks that always drew comments from people, his uncle said.

"People just loved him. There was something about him," said Graham, who has been mayor about 20 years.

But his sister's boy was not a stellar student. John Gullion, Scottsburg High's principal at the time, would drive to Bond's home and take Montgomery to class some mornings.

"I went there a few times, yes," Gullion recalled with a laugh. "There are just some kids you know they're going to be all right some day, when they get through school. He was one of them.

"I just keep seeing his big smile," the former principal said.

Said Bond: "He goofed off. He got in the usual teenage stuff. Don't know all of it. Don't want to know."

Montgomery celebrated his graduation in 1996 — after five years — by buying a dozen yellow roses and sending them with a "thank you" note to guidance counselor Dancie Colson.

She was so delighted she took a picture of the bouquet and put it in her photo album.

"He was a sweet kid, and now I'm going to cry," Colson said.

Montgomery's death has hit home for Colson and a lot of others from the community where heading to the service after high school is common.

"This town is red, white and blue all the way through. A lot of our kids go military," said Colson, whose 24-year-old son Jason is a Marine.

They're grateful they've been able to send several young soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq and see them return safely. Montgomery is the first who hasn't.

Montgomery worked for a time installing security systems. He enlisted two years ago, looking for a way to support his growing family.

Bond said he came home to Scottsburg last Christmas with his wife and children.

During phone calls from Iraq, she said, he never let on that he faced tremendous danger. She often didn't know where he was calling from and didn't ask.

"He never wanted to worry me," Bond recalled.

Instead, he tried to steer the conversation to how she was doing. Two weeks ago, she said, he asked how her kitchen renovation was going and told her it was great she could spend time with her brother Rick, who was helping out.

"He was such a compassionate person," Bond said. "I don't mind saying it. He was our angel. He was our baby."

From the Courier Journal