Saturday, May 05, 2007

Kevin Gaspers laid to rest

HASTINGS -- First Lt. Kevin Gaspers idolized his father. In all the years he worked for him, going back to the sixth grade, he never talked back once.

At Gaspers' funeral on Friday, almost two weeks after his death in Iraq, it was time for his father to return the favor.

"I'm going to live the rest of my life trying to be like him -- trying to be like my son," John Gaspers said in a video shown before the funeral.

His father was far from the only one Gaspers impacted.

More than 1,100 people filled Hastings St. Cecilia High School's gym Friday morning to commemorate Gaspers' life, one they said was characterized by compassion, dedication, laughter and sincerity.

Gaspers, a 26-year-old Hastings native, was killed on April 23 in a truck bombing northeast of Baghdad along with eight other soldiers of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, including Staff Sgt. Kenneth Locker Jr. of Burwell.

During his sermon, the Rev. James Meysenburg, superintendent of Hastings Catholic Schools, said Gaspers lived out the Beatitudes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in a life of service and compassion.

"He lived a life of sacrifice, and he did it with generosity and with a joy-filled heart," Meysenburg said.

Meysenburg and the video before the funeral painted the picture of a caring brother who watched over his two younger sisters, Katie and Audrey.

They portrayed a dedicated worker who went from a pencil-necked freshman on his high school football team to a tough, hardened senior who went after opposing offenses.

And they revealed a fun-loving friend who visited third-grade classrooms in Hastings and Alma to explain to them his life as a soldier.

"I look like a turtle, right?" a uniformed Gaspers said in a video from one visit.

"Where's your shell?" a student asked.

"That's my shell," Gaspers said, grinning and knocking on his helmet.

In the hallway outside the gym were posted letters written by Alma students to Gaspers' parents, John and Pam, after his death.

"I am very sad about Kevin. He was very nice and funny," read one. "He would've made a nice dad."

Gaspers, who joined the Army while a member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's ROTC program, was a scout platoon leader with a squadron of paratroopers.

He was posthumously awarded several honors on Friday, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal.

In giving the awards to his family, Lt. Col. Fred Drummond Jr. praised Gaspers' professionalism, leadership and tactical experience.

"His sincere desire to bring peace and stability to a foreign nation is an example of what all soldiers strive to achieve," Drummond said.

About 120 members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group also attended the event, standing at attention for the arrival of Gaspers' family while the sound of hymns wafted from the gym inside.

After the funeral, they ringed the graveside ceremonies with American flags as members of Gaspers' division gave his mother the flag from his casket before giving hugs to each of his family members.

Meysenburg lauded the sincerity of Gaspers' beliefs, both in God and in his country.

On one trip home, Meysenburg recalled, Gaspers told him how excited he was when Catholic priests were available at his unit's weekly services so he could celebrate Mass.

Meysenburg said Gaspers was similarly passionate about his mission in Iraq, the one for which he ultimately gave his life.

"He loved what he did, and he loved what he stood for," Meysenburg said. "The words 'duty,' 'honor' and 'country' were easy for Kevin because that went so much into who he was."

From the Grand Island Independent

Related Link:
Kevin Gaspers remembered

Related Link:
Kevin J. Gaspers dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his location'