Thursday, June 14, 2007

Eric M. Barnes dies 'as result of an improvised explosive device attack on an Air Force convoy'

For the second time in 10 days, Lorain has lost another son to war. Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes, 20, of Lorain, died Sunday while on duty in Iraq.

Barnes graduated from Admiral King High School in 2004 and enlisted in the Air Force the following year. He wanted to build a career in the military, his mother said, and volunteered for his second tour of duty because he felt he needed to earn his rank.

“I’ll never understand it,” she said. “But he felt he needed to go back. We backed him up 100 percent.”

As a convoy truck driver, Barnes had the dangerous job of delivering items to bases around Baghdad. On June 10, he was riding as a passenger in the lead truck of the convoy 100 miles south of Baghdad when an improvised explosive device detonated as his vehicle passed. He died on the way to a medical facility in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Around 2:30 a.m., two Air Force personnel rang the door bell of Tom and Shary Barnes’ Osborn Avenue home in Lorain.

“I knew right away what they were here for,” Tom Barnes said. “I knew he had been killed.”

Shary Barnes said her son died instantly according to military reports. The driver remains in serious condition.

The last time she had spoken to her son was last Tuesday evening. He would call every other day and e-mail the family whenever he was on the road.

“We talked for 45 minutes,” she said. “He was upbeat like he always was. Even in his e-mails, you could tell that he was upbeat.”

Her son’s smile is one of the first things that flash in Shary Barnes’ mind. He loved baseball and was a pretty good bowler, but seeing his smiling face is what she said she’ll miss the most.

One of those smiles remains captured in a ribbon-shaped wooden frame hand-carved out of maple by Tom Barnes.

He said his son had learned at an early age that honor was something that had to be earned through hard work.

At the age of 17, Eric Barnes earned the status of Eagle Scout — the highest rank a Boy Scout can receive — by building a handicapped-accessible ramp at the Murray Ridge Production Center in Oberlin.

The designation followed years of volunteering and helping Boy Scouts younger than him, in addition to the countless hours working his way through the Boy Scout ranks. A number of the younger scouts in Troop 397 showed up in support of the family at their home on Monday.

Mike Stempowski, 17, of Lorain, described Eric Barnes as someone he looked up to.

Stempowski said once he graduates from Admiral King in 2009, he plans to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard.

“I think Eric would be proud of me,” he said.

As Scoutmaster for Troop 397, Donald Kaspar met Eric Barnes five years ago, and worked closely with him when he became senior patrol leader of the troop. Kaspar described his friend as having all the qualities any parent would be proud of.

“He was the kind of kid who was a born leader,” he said. “He was the kind of kid you wanted your son to grow up to be like.”

The Barnes family is still waiting to hear when their son’s body will return. They said their faith and the outpouring of support from family and friends is helping them get through the difficult time.

Two flags hang from the Barnes’ porch pillars of their Osborn Avenue home. One portrays a yellow ribbon, while on the opposite pillar, an American flag.

Shary Barnes hung them up when her son first went to Iraq. She supported her son, and will remain supporting the troops that continue to fight overseas. The flags will remain up, she said, but it’s time for the troops to return to the U.S.

“I know my son didn’t die for nothing,” she said. “But even before this happened, I really felt that they should bring those boys home.”

From the Chronicle-Telegram