Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Robert Surber laid to rest

They came together Monday to remember the man who was a soldier, a son and best friend, who died “standing on the wall” to protect freedom and the country he loved.

Army Sgt. Robert Surber was someone who loved life and laughter, liked heavy metal music and loved the Miami Dolphins football team no matter how bad they played, those sitting in the church were told. In letters read by close friend Sgt. Armadio Ruiz, he was someone who anyone would feel lucky to know.

As a soldier, Ruiz said the Inverness resident was in a category of his own. He was an individual, but a team player, and joked he could be hard working, but lazy and motivated. He always did what he had to do, Ruiz continued.

“It doesn’t matter what you called him,” Ruiz said. “He was a great man, a great soldier and a great friend.”

Three months away from completing his second tour in Iraq, Surber, 24, was killed June 3, when a roadside bomb exploded near the Humvee he was driving in Thania, Iraq. Three others were killed in the blast. They were from the 2nd Infantry Division of the Stryker Brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash.

The impact Surber, a 2000 Citrus High School graduate, had on his friends and strangers was felt in the line of people holding American flags and standing outside The Vineyard Fellowship Church in Inverness. More than 100 members of the Patriot Guard Riders — a collection of motorcyclists that includes numerous veterans organizations — lined up with flag-adorned motorcycles to pay their respects.

Hundreds more filled the church to hear Air Force Chaplain Lewis McMullen say Surber made a choice to “stand on the wall” and defend the country.

Reading from letters by members of Surber’s unit, Ruiz said Surber was unique, and anyone trying to describe him would come up with a wide range of letters. Roommates while the two were at Fort Lewis, Ruiz said he learned a lot about Surber in the four years they were together.

“Sgt. Surber was proud to wear the uniform, and serve the country he loved,” he said.

Cassie Brunk, who started dating Surber after the two met through the Internet several months ago, recalled his passion for the Dolphins and video games. Childhood friend Jeremy Lentz, now in the Coast Guard, remembered having to stay home sick with bronchitis in eighth grade and missing the county fair.

Surber invited him over to his house and the two hung out all night. “That’s when I knew Robert Surber was my best friend,” Lentz said.

Surber’s flag-draped casket was taken from the church following the service and placed on a transparent caisson pulled by two Clydesdales. The Patriot Guard Riders pulled onto U.S. 41 to head north toward the Oak Ridge Cemetery, as Surber’s family and relatives filed into vehicles behind them.

The procession slowly made its way up the road, passing lines of people in medians and on the side of the road holding flags. As the procession turned onto Highland Boulevard, county firefighters saluted Surber’s body and his family as they passed.

At the intersection of South Seminole Avenue and Hill Street, Surber’s family got out of several vehicles, and his mother, three sisters, grandparents, stepfather, brother and others walked arm-in-arm toward the cemetery. Melody Cubero, a ninth-grader at Citrus High School and one of Surber’s sisters, wore replica dog tags around her neck with an inscribed message of “In Loving Memory of Robert Allen Surber.”

On the grassy banks of the cemetery, groups of people stood watching; a group of children from the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch Caruth Camp whispered as the casket passed.

Surber’s gravesite was surrounded by the Patriot Guard and numerous other veterans, including the Floral City American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, as they stood at attention. Others stood in the street as the casket was set in place.

McMullen told Surber’s family that Surber is in the company of the Lord, and to rejoice knowing they will meet him again. His words were followed by the firing of rifles and the playing of taps.

Surber’s mother, Kerri, cried as she was presented an American flag from the casket.

In his closing prayer, McMullen said of Surber, “Our lives are richer because of the impact he’s had on us. He stood on the wall so that we might be free.”

From the Citrus County Chronicle

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Robert Surber remembered

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Robert A. Surber dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'