Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rhys Klasno laid to rest

Sgt. Rhys William Klasno knew Riverside National Cemetery well.

The California Army National Guardsman served as a member of a cemetery memorial honor guard, the soldiers who stand at attention during veterans' funerals, fire rifle volleys, fold the flag and pay respects to survivors on behalf of a grateful nation.

Klasno's family said he considered the duty sacred because it paid tribute to those who protected Americans' freedoms.

Klasno made his final trip to the cemetery Tuesday.

He was buried with full military honors nine days after he died from injuries in a roadside bombing in Haditha. About 300 mourners attended memorial services at Harvest Christian Fellowship and the national cemetery, including more than 50 members of the Patriot Guard Riders who led the procession on their motorcycles.

Klasno's commanding general presented his family with the Purple Heart for combat wounds and a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service. They also received Gold Star pins, the symbol of his ultimate sacrifice. Klasno's survivors include his wife, Stephanie, who is pregnant with their daughter.

Klasno was 20.

"Rhys was a shining star in a world that needed more light," said his father, Michael Klasno. "He was the goodness of the Lord."

Michael Klasno, 56, a former Marine, said his son spent about 18 months in different honor guard details at the national cemetery. That service included duties at four funerals for Iraq war casualties.

When his unit was activated and sent to Iraq, Rhys Klasno served as an ammunition carrier. Later, the 1114th Transportation Company needed a heavy vehicle driver, so he volunteered to switch jobs to fill the need. Klasno's death came 60 days before the scheduled end of his deployment.

Fellow soldiers from the Bakersfield-based company attended his funeral.

The ceremony included a flyover of three Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters, a rifle salute and the playing of taps.

Family members and Klasno's Army buddies recounted his love of the country, his willingness to help out at the base hospital in Iraq where he was stationed, his desire to lead Bible-study groups and his love for his wife, whom he met while both attended Woodcrest Christian High School in Riverside. He volunteered for hazardous missions, assignments other soldiers sometimes opted out of.

They all recalled his contagious smile.

Brig. Gen. Jim Combs, who commands the 40th Infantry Division, said Klasno exemplified the highest military values -- honor, duty, loyalty, selflessness, respect and personal courage. Combs said soldiers accept that their service may result in death, but that is the price they are willing to pay to "preserve and protect future generations."

"There is nothing easy about being a soldier," Combs said. "You pay the price for a nation at war."

The family has already selected a name for Klasno's daughter. She will be called London Eevie and will learn about her father's commitment to God, honor and country.

Michael Klasno said he and his relatives take comfort in one of Rhys's favorite Bible passages, John 15:13 -- "Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one's life for his friends."

From the Press Enterprise

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