Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Erich Smallwood laid to rest

As the first mournful notes of Taps echoed across the rolling meadows of Memorial Park Cemetery in Jonesboro Monday afternoon, the realization that Sgt. Erich Scott Smallwood had come to his final resting place finally hit home. Not even the 21-gun salute, executed moments before the lone bugler began to play, could elicit the emotion which the far-too-familiar tune did.

Many of the estimated 500 people who honored Smallwood with their attendance at his memorial service an hour before at Trumann High School followed the honor guard and hearse to the cemetery. And it seemed as if every one of these individuals wanted to thank the family for the opportunity to have known their classmate, relative or friend.

Smallwood died Saturday, May 26, from injuries he sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle as he was on patrol near Balada, Iraq. The young soldier was a member of the 875th Engineering Battalion headquartered in Marked Tree. The unit had been mobilized in the country since July 19, 2006.

During the memorial service, which was held in the high school auditorium, a number of individuals spoke, both military and non-military, praising the young man who turned 23 just six days before his death.

Speaking before a grieving crowd, phrases such as “smiling face” and “his positive attitude helped us all” were just some of the praises made in the soldier’s memory. Other things which were said were just as telling of the man.

“He made it clear to me from the start where he stood in his faith in Jesus Christ and in his love of his country.”

“He was the greatest friend and brother a person could have.”

“I can’t say ‘love’ enough. Erich loved people.”

“I only knew him a year, but I thank God for every moment I was able to know him.”

Rev. Darrel Miller followed these words with a sermon which he opened by thanking God “that there are people who are willing to live their lives and give their lives for something bigger than themselves.”

He went on to speak about how some people believe that staying the course is doing nothing more than staying alive.

“But Erich obviously didn’t believe that,” Miller added. “Some people want to withdraw from life almost, but not Erich.”

He continued by comparing Smallwood to the Good Samaritan who was willing to help his fellow man when everyone else had passed by, even though doing so might have been dangerous. And like the biblical parable, Miller emphasized that Smallwood wasn’t afraid to stick his neck out for his fellow man.

“He made this clear by joining the military and going to Iraq,” Miller said.

Gov. Mike Beebe, even though he wasn’t one of the speakers, was in attendance to show his respect for Smallwood and his family. Apparently due to scheduling conflicts, Beebe didn’t accompany the funeral procession to Memorial park. One group which did make their presence fully known, even helping lead the procession to the cemetery, was the group of motorcycle riders called the Patriot Guard Riders.

Smallwood would have no doubt appreciated these men and women whose mission is much like the former Wildcat’s, to show respect for the fallen heroes of the United States. Additionally, they come to memorials such as the one Monday to shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.

There were no protestors anywhere to be seen, however, as the city of Trumann and the surrounding area showed their respect for a true fallen hero with an outpouring of words and emotion.

The final act of tribute for Smallwood was when Major General William D. Wofford, Adjutant General of Arkansas, presented to the family the folded flag which had been draped over the Sergeant’s coffin.

Among the medals awarded posthumously to Smallwood were the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal with Valor. The valor award was for a Nov. 27 incident in which Smallwood maneuvered vehicles to protect a civilian convoy during a complex ambush which involved roadside bombs and small-arms fire.

Although the ceremonies are over and Smallwood is in his final place of rest, the outpouring of love and support continues to come, many of which are expressed in the online guestbook which can be viewed at www.thompsonfuneralhome.net.

Some of his fellow soldiers were among those to comment.

“Though I only got to know you for less than a year, you were like family n- a brother,” said Sgt. Patrick Green from Fort Smith. “I know as we get ready to patrol each day I’m going to miss you...You always kept the platoon in good spirits...I will never forget you brother.”

Sgt. Hart, who also served with Smallwood in Iraq, thanked Smallwood for his sacrifice.

“You lived life to the fullest daily and I admire that,” Hart said. “You put your life on the line without hesitation every day and I love you for it. Goodbye my friend.”

Others from around the United States have left touching comments in the guestbook thanking Smallwood for his faithfulness in fighting for freedom.

State Rep. Buddy Lovell also expressed his condolences to the family.

“I take this opportunity to extend my deep sympathy along with my sincere appreciation for the life of Erich and his willingness to serve our country,” Lovell said. “I served in the 875th Engineers during my career in the Army National Guard and totally understand the commitment Erich made to his country and to his fellow soldiers. He gave all he had for his country and for your and my freedom. We will forever be grateful for his sacrifice.”

And those who knew Smallwood and those who only just now know of a man who was a hero all echo those same sentiments n- we will forever be grateful for his sacrifice.

Perhaps Smallwood put the matter best in his own words in a myspace.com “blog” that he wrote in January.

“If you have a family member or a friend over here, don't be mad that he's over here. Be happy that he or she came for you,” Smallwood said. “It's a dangerous place to be. No one can promise that anyone will make it back. If I die here I did it for you...if anyone else dies here they did it for you. Mourn but be happy to know that he loved you that much.”

Smallwood leaves behind his fiancée, Amanda Carter of Blytheville; his father, James Troy ”Jimmy” Smallwood, Sr. of Osceola; his mother, Pamela Spence of Paragould; one sister, Terah Smallwood Redman and her husband Jon of Jonesboro; one brother, J.T. Smallwood Jr. of Jonesboro; one niece, Taylor Cook of Jonesboro; his grandparents, Joann and Angelo Taverna of Memphis and Frances Lafarlett of Trumann; three half-sisters, Haley Miller of Paragould, Jaden Smallwood of Osceola and Tonya Kimbell of Bosie, Idaho; four half-brothers, Connor Miller of Paragould, Tyler Miller of Paragould, Quinton Miller of Paragould and Tony Smallwood of Wilson.; and his special family, Joey, Melody, Zac and Bridgette Wilson.

From the Tri-City Tribune

Related Link:
Erich S. Smallwood dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'