Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Nic (Nicholas E.) Riehl dies of injuries from I.E.D.

SHIOCTON — When Army Pfc. Nicholas Riehl visited Shiocton at Thanksgiving before deploying to Iraq he played his beloved guitar and told friends of a band he formed called "For This I Die."

Word that the 21-year-old Riehl was killed Friday in Iraq in a roadside bomb blast spread quickly among the fellow 54 members of Riehl's 2004 Shiocton High School graduating class, including Dustin Dontje.

"Nic's joy was his guitar," Dontje said. "The last night he was home he played for most of the night. You just never figure anything like this is going to happen."

Riehl died in Fallujah from injuries suffered in the explosion of an improvised explosive device while his unit was on combat patrol.

Funeral services for Riehl are on hold pending the return of his body to Shiocton, a village of 959 about 20 miles northwest of Appleton.

"I got a call Saturday morning from a friend who heard of Nic's death. We are all shocked about it. We grew up and graduated with him," said Roxana Gomez, a clerk at the village's Citgo gas station where talk of Riehl's death replaced the normal local banter about spring fishing. "We all knew he was over there (Iraq), but it's hard to believe it could happen to someone from Shiocton."

Gomez said Riehl joined the Army with a classmate, Brian Rousseau. Both were in the same unit.

Riehl joined the Army in November 2005, arrived at Fort Stewart, Ga., in April 2006 and was deployed to Iraq in January, serving as a cavalry scout, said Kevin Larson, a civilian spokesman at the fort.

He was assigned to the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, out of Fort Stewart, Ga.

Riehl's grandmother, Sandy Riehl, said the explosion took away a wonderful person.

"He was truthful, and he always thought of others before he thought of himself. He was a person to be proud of and had many talents," Sandy Riehl said. "He was going to go to college, but he put that off to serve his country."

Sandy Riehl said her grandson's parents, Rick and Patricia Riehl, was notified of their son's death late Friday.

Flags flew at half-staff Monday at Shiocton schools and villages offices.

Shiocton High School varsity basketball and golf coach Chad Schmidt said Riehl, the basketball team's most valuable player in his senior year, was a perfect athlete and student and a leader.

"Nic was the type of leader where I, as a coach, could have sat on the bench and done crossword puzzles," Schmidt said. "He was an unbelievable human being. I was so blessed to know that fine young man."

Schmidt said news of Riehl's death cast a feeling of extreme sadness over this community in northwestern Outagamie County.

"I think I can speak for the community and school district that we are going to miss this fine young man," Schmidt said.

Shiocton High School Principal Kelly Zeinert said she envisioned Riehl's smile when she heard the news.

"He was a nice guy, a typical small-town kid," Zeinert said.

While Riehl graduated three years ago, his death still affected the school, Zeinert said.

"The teachers and kids are having a hard time dealing with it," Zeinert said. "With the war in Iraq, it makes it more real when you lose someone from home."

Shane Van Straten of Shiocton, who played football with Riehl, said he knows of eight Shiocton High School graduates who are in the military serving in a war zone.

"This stuff just doesn't hit home until it happens to someone real close. It's a shocker for our small town. It affects everyone," Van Straten said. "Nic was a friend to most people. He could make you laugh. He was always making jokes. His death is just a tragedy."

Shiocton Village Trustee Terri James said news of Riehl's death shocked the entire community.

"As a community as small as we are something like this, to lose one of your own in the war, hits pretty hard," James said. "As a community we now have to do whatever we can to help Nic's family and the family of his best friend who is over there to get through this tragedy."

From the Oshkosh Northwestern