Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Michael Slater laid to rest

Pfc. Michael James Slater had a funeral with full military honors and was buried in a silver casket right beside his mother's plot, just as he had chosen.

Hundreds of people gathered in the chapel at Tyler Mountain Funeral Home to remember their brother, son and friend. Many were sitting, and some were left standing around the perimeter of the funeral home.

Even though the fighting and killing in Iraq is thousands of miles away from the United States, for all gathered at the chapel Sunday afternoon, the war became a sad reality.

"This past week, I ceased to watch the war in Iraq on television or read about it in the newspaper. It came home," said Pastor Keith Hudson.

For the 19-year-old Slater, joining the military was something he had always wanted to do.

"He talked to me right before he went to the service. I asked him why. He said, ‘I've just always wanted to go, Poppa,' " recalled Edward Withrow, Michael's biological grandfather. Michael was adopted when he was six.

In July, he joined the Army as a heavy vehicle driver. He was a member of the Fort Bragg-N.C.-based 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

He died in a vehicle rollover April 21. The Army issued a release saying he died during combat operations in Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad, but his family members said they were told he died during a training exercise.

The 2005 Winfield High School graduate was remembered as an ornery boy who everybody loved.

"When I watched that little boy grow up, if I had to pick one way to describe him, it would be Dennis the Menace," Hudson said. "He was one of those people, you couldn't help but love him. Even when you were most aggravated, you loved him."

Michael was a boy who loved to make people laugh. Even in his death, he could fill the room with laughter.

"Even in serious times, he could find something to make people smile," Withrow said.

Laughter filled the room when Hudson shared a neighbor's memory of Michael's hard work ethic. When Michael was a kid, he was constantly outside mowing lawns and picking weeds, his neighbor said.

"One of the neighbors said, ‘You never saw a kid who liked to work so well,' " Hudson said.

The neighbor later discovered Michael's hard work was his mother's form of discipline.

Family and friends of Michael remember him not only as a mischievous boy, but one who was also devoted to God.

"The last picture I have of Michael, it's hardly been a month. Michael bowed down at the altar and asked the Lord to be his savior. He sent an e-mail. It said, ‘It's 8 o'clock. The work's done, but I'm going to chapel,' " Hudson said.

Michael was a member of the Scary Creek Church of God.

Michael told people he wanted to go out in style, and that's the way he died, Pastor Gary Hale said.

"He was ornery, but he was real. When he knelt at an altar and accepted Jesus Christ into his heart, that's style," Hale said.

Michael was a short guy who was affected by "little man syndrome," Hale said.

"He thought he could take on the world," he said.

Michael was a huge baseball fan, even writing about the sport in a book he authored in fourth grade. Pastor Robert Underwood shared the story with the crowd.

The main character in Michael's book was a boy who wanted to play baseball for the Atlanta Braves, his favorite team. The boy was playing baseball in his backyard and hit a home run. Because of the home run, he was able to play for the Braves.

One day during a game while the boy was running the bases, he tripped on a rock and was paralyzed. He couldn't play baseball anymore. He tried and tried to walk, and eventually he was able to walk and run and play baseball again.

The moral Michael included at the end of his story was one he followed throughout his life: Follow your dream and never stop trying.

"Michael had an attitude in life -- never give up," Hale said. "He was beginning to mature and beginning to never give up. Michael gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and for that, we are to honor him."

Following the chapel service for Michael, people gathered at his graveside and watched as seven soldiers performed the 21-gun salute.

Both Michael's adopted mother, Patricia Slater, and his biological mother, Darlena Withrow, were presented with flags.

Four doves were released to symbolize Michael's spirit being released to meet the angels.

Together, the crowd of hundreds sang, "I'll Fly Away."

To honor Michael, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin ordered all state flags be lowered to half-staff Sunday.

While he was in the Army, Michael received the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon and the Overseas Ribbon, the Parachutist Badge and the Weapons Qualification Badge.

Posthumously, he received the Bronze Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Good Conduct Medal.

From the Charleston Daily Mail

Related Link:
Michael J. Slater dies from 'wounds suffered when his vehicle rolled over during combat operations'