Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Brian Long honored by community

BURNS - Katlyn Graves and Jackie Daywitt never met U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brian Long.

But when they heard Long died in Iraq, they wanted to do something.

"We had been talking about him, that we'd lost a solder from Burns," said Graves, 17. "Jackie said it would be kind of nice to do something for him. She said, 'Well, what if we had a banner made?'"

The vinyl banner now hangs on a wall at End of the Trail gift shop and restaurant at the Antelope Truck Stop just off Interstate 80 near Burns.

Graves is a waitress there; Daywitt is one of the owners.

"I just felt like saying 'I'm sorry' wasn't enough," Daywitt said. "I wanted to have something they (his family) could take a hold of and look at to let them know that the community indeed cared."

The message printed across the banner reflects the sentiments of many in Burns and the surrounding eastern Laramie County area.

"Brian Long we salute you. One of our own," it reads in bold blue letters.

Many employees helped out with the banner project, Daywitt said.

The loss has touched her.

"It was so personal; it was so close," she said. "It's community, you know."

They want people to sign the banner. Then they will give it to Long's family within the next few weeks.

"It shows the family that we care and we do honestly salute and appreciate everything that our soldiers do for us," Graves said.

Long was killed June 10 after a roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad. He was on his second tour in Iraq and was due home in early June. Officials had extended his tour.

He was stationed out of Fort Lewis, Wash.

Among survivors are his wife, Brenda, and three children as well as his mother and sister and other relatives.

A service is planned at 1 p.m. today at Cheyenne Hills Church. The media have been asked to stay away.

Long, 32, had served in the military since he enlisted in the early 1990s after he got his high-school diploma.

He came to Burns as a toddler and attended elementary schools in Hillsdale and Carpenter.

A class of sixth-graders from Carpenter Elementary near Burns - including his nephew Mikey Sheets - wrote letters to Long this spring. The students also sent him a package of food and supplies.

"I told him about my family and that we were getting a puppy and that I like to play sports," said Megan Smith, 11, of Carpenter.

Long's death saddened her.

"I thought, 'That's too bad,'" she said. "His family is pretty sad."

Megan and her family attend Carpenter United Methodist Church, whose members also sent Long a care package.

Burns was a quiet place Tuesday afternoon. The sun glistened off the chrome of a few cars parked along Main Street.

Sixto Delgado runs Burns Subs and Coffee, located a few feet from the post office.

Delgado said he hopes something can be done for Long during the Burns Day parade on Saturday.

He said he tries to think how he would react if he were a relative.

"The truth is you don't know how you're going to take it," he said. "It's too personal for you to imagine what someone is going through. You want to respect their privacy and allow them time to grieve."

The post office on the corner is a busy hub for the town. People come here to get their mail, drop off packages and say hello.

Postmaster Pam Gross has worked there for 14 years. She knows the family.

"He married a local girl," she said.

If people don't know where to send condolence cards, Gross said, they can put the family's name on the envelopes. She will make sure the cards get to them.

The loss has touched her.

"It made me appreciate the sacrifices that our soldiers make a whole lot more than it did a week before it happened," Gross said.

"They say that's the 'ultimate sacrifice.' But you can't really appreciate the sacrifice the families make until you personally know the families.

"Everybody in town has just felt very deeply about it."

Polly Helzer of Burns is making a wall hanging for the family. She has made quilts for years, often for cancer raffles and other volunteer efforts.

She doesn't know Long or his relatives. But that doesn't matter.

"I wanted to do something," she said. "They are part of the community in which I live."

From the Wyoming News

Related Link:
Brian M. Long dies 'of wounds suffered from an explosive ordnance'