Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Henry G. Byrd III 'died June 24 in Landstuhl Germany, from a non-combat related illness sustained June 18 while in Iraq'

VEGUITA — A New Mexico family is mourning the loss of a 20-year-old soldier from this Socorro County community who died from a noncombat-related illness while serving in Iraq.

The U.S. Department of Defense said Army Pfc. Henry G. Byrd III died on June 24 in Landstuhl, Germany, after becoming ill last week. The Defense Department gave no details, but Byrd's family said the soldier died after collapsing from apparent heat stroke.

Family members said they had been praying since last June 20, when they learned that the young soldier had been taken to a hospital in Germany. His parents traveled to Germany to be with him as a priest gave him last rites.

Byrd was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Byrd, a 2004 graduate of Belen High School, always had aspirations of joining the Army, his family said. After signing up in January 2006, he was trained to drive tanks at Fort Stewart and his unit left for Iraq in April.

"He was pretty nervous about going, but he told us he had a job to do and he was going to do it," said Byrd's uncle, Frank Ortega.

Byrd's stepbrother, Robert Vallejos, said the soldier was always laughing and trying to please people. He remembers Byrd's constant smile.

"Little Henry is pure of heart," Ortega said. "And I believe, as I'm standing here, that they met him at the pearly gates and he's happy."

Belen High School JROTC Chief Oscar Magallanes said Byrd was someone you could count on.

"He was a great kid," Magallanes said. "He cared about people, and when you lose one like Henry, it's hard - it's real hard."

Family members said Byrd's unit had to make repairs to a tank after a track came off the vehicle. Byrd had been standing guard, but when his fellow soldiers turned around they found him on the ground with a temperature of 109 degrees.

Byrd's father, Henry J. Byrd II, said he is trying to find out more about his son's death.

"I don't know how someone is working on a track, no one sees him fall and they find him unconscious. None of this makes sense," the elder Byrd said in a telephone interview from Germany.

The elder Byrd said his son will be buried in Santa Fe National Cemetery after a funeral at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church.

From the Albuquerque Tribune