Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ryen King remembered

Carnesville — Each weekday morning at 8:15, Diane Toney's voice signals the start of another day at Franklin County High School. The principal makes the morning announcements over the public-address system, always concluding with a moment of silence for individual reflection.

On Tuesday, for the second terrible time in six months, that moment was all too specific.

killed in Iraq," Toney recalled, sitting at her desk. She paused.

On Monday, Pfc. King, 19, was one of nine soldiers in the 82nd Airborne killed in a suicide bomber attack in Iraq. He was the second fatality from Franklin County's class of 2005 in the last six months. On Nov. 13, Pfc. Daniel Allman, 20, was killed when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

"It's been devastating. It's our second one," Toney said. "Here we are, a rural high school, 1,150 kids and two boys — two young men in the class of 2005 — are killed in this war that some communities are not even touched by."

At the high school and at the courthouse on Carnesville's town square, the flags flew at half-mast.

"It brings it home," Jerry King said in his nearby Bowersville home, nodding his head while studying a photograph of Ryen, his only son, in the green jersey and chest protector he wore as a catcher for the high school baseball team.

"The people in Franklin County have been amazing," King said. "People you know, others you don't, they all tell you how sorry they are and how much they appreciate Ryen's sacrifice. Smalltown America, you know?"

Once Ryen's body is flown by military transport to Dover, Del., and then to the small airport in Toccoa, he will be buried next week in Rose Hill Cemetery in Royston.

Last Monday, about 5:30 p.m., Jerry King driving up Oglesby Road when he saw an official-looking car with two military personnel inside. King, a social studies teacher at Franklin County High and an assistant coach for the Lady Lions' softball and basketball teams, was headed toward Lavonia to umpire a Little League baseball game. But he turned the car around, drove toward home and said a prayer.

"They were waiting for me," King said. "At that point, you're just hoping he's injured. They said, 'Let's go inside. Let's sit down.'"

King was told that his son had died from injuries suffered when a building collapsed on him.

The same week, Amanda Allman Reese, the mother of Daniel Allman, wrote a letter to the Franklin County Citizen/The News Leader, expressing her thanks for the support she's received from the community since her son's death. It read, in part: "Thank you, Franklin County, for all of the support y'all have given us. Support our Troops, Daniel would have wanted that." It was accompanied by a photo of Allman and his daughter, Haleigh, 2.

Toney remembered Allman as "a hard-working kid, with a baby he wanted to take care of.''

The principal has made sure that, in the anguish surrounding King's death, Allman is remembered, too. When a teacher proposed dedicating a blood drive in King's memory, Toney said, "That's fine, but we must mention Daniel, too."

Just as there was for Allman, there will be a memorial service for King in the high school auditorium.

At Franklin County High School, Ryen King was known as "a gifted athlete," Toney said. King, who also played football, was "very, very bright. Very likeable. Lots of charisma," she said.

When asked why King, an honors student, chose to enter the military before going to college, Toney replied, "I think Ryen probably knew himself well enough to know he needed the military structure before going to school."

"Ryen was a wonderful student who loved to think and learn," said John Beasley, who taught King for four years in humanities and gifted classes. Beasley remembers King's "genuineness, character and intelligence. He was interested in everything. I was always impressed by his values. For a person of his age, he focused on things that were real, much more than a typical teenager. ... He was a lifetime learner."

Baseball coach Derrick Davis called King "the most honorable kid I've ever met." This, despite the fact that King was dismissed from the team for breaking team rules.

"He always told you the truth. It didn't matter if it was going to get him in trouble," Davis said. "He'd say, 'I did it.' Even if 10 other kids had done it and wouldn't say so. When he broke rules in his sophomore and senior seasons and was off the team, I'd meet him in the hallways and make a point to speak to him. There was never any anger by him. He understood."

After being deployed to Iraq last August, King came home for two weeks in January. He spent most of that time with his girlfriend Hanna Jordan snow skiing before returning to Iraq.

In a news release this week from the 82nd Airbone, which is based in Fort Bragg, N.C., Sgt. William Fleming, a team leader who served with King in Iraq, said: "He was young, but he was a motivated paratrooper, with the initiative of a seasoned leader."

While stationed in Iraq, "The [local] kids in Iraq just loved King," wrote Sgt. Fleming. "They were attracted to him like a big Teddy bear."

At home on Oglesby Road, King's memorial Teddy bear sits on the couch in the living room. His sister Addison's fifth-grade class at Lavonia Elementary School brought a gift to the King home this week: a customized bear from a "Build-a-Bear" workshop, designed and stuffed and dressed in an Army uniform.

"It would've been interesting to see how he turned out," Jerry King said. "The kinda guy he was, the kinda traits he'd carried through life, you can't help but wonder what kind of impact he'd have had."

King is survived by his father and his mother, Carmen Jordan, of Royston. King had five sisters, ages 2 to 20, and was a role model for them, his father said.

From the Atlanta Journal Consitution

Related Link:
Ryen (Jerry R.) King dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his location'