Sunday, July 01, 2007

Henry Byrd remembered

Friends and relatives are still trying to piece together the events that led up to the death of a Veguita soldier in Iraq.

Pfc. Henry Byrd III, 20, died Sunday evening in an American military hospital in Germany, almost a week after he collapsed from apparent heatstroke during an Army mission in Iraq, his family said.

Belen High School JROTC Chief Oscar Magallanes said Byrd was always someone you could count on, going above and beyond what was asked of him.

"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."

Military officials declined to comment until notice of his death is posted on the Department of Defense's Web site.

Byrd's father, Henry J. Byrd II of Veguita, about 45 miles south of Albuquerque, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Germany that he received a call June 18 from military officials saying his son was in a hospital suffering from heatstroke.

"They didn't know if he was under fire or (if there'd been) a land mine or somehow they'd taken a hit, but (his unit) blew a track off the tank and had to get out and make repairs," his father said.

The soldiers emerged from the tank, standing in formation to watch for activity in the surrounding area, said Margaret Baca, the younger Byrd's former stepmother. The driver, she said, worked to fix the track. A medic had been traveling with the group.

"When they turned around, Henry was on the ground because of heatstroke," his father said. "He had a temperature of 109 degrees, and they didn't know what had happened."

The soldier's father said family members were given different versions of his son's condition and whereabouts until they arrived at the German hospital.

The elder Byrd and Baca left for Germany early Thursday. Byrd III's mother, Yolanda Lopez of Albuquerque, also flew to her son's bedside in Germany.

"Twice on the way, we called the doctor and had him put the phone up to his (Henry's) ear so we could talk to him," his father said.

They told Henry how proud they were of him. A priest gave him last rites and prayed with the family.

"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," his father said.

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

Byrd joined the Army in January 2006 and was trained to drive military tanks while stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. Byrd's unit was deployed to Iraq in April, where he was expected to serve for about a year.

Family and friends say Byrd loved hunting, camping, fishing, swimming and riding horses.

Byrd also served as a volunteer member of the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department before joining the Army.

The 2004 Belen High School graduate joined the JROTC during his freshman year.

Close friend Belinda Gonzalez said she talked with Byrd on Father's Day, and he said he was fine but wanted to come home. Tears welled up as she read one of his most recent letters to the family.

"He writes, 'Don't worry ... I'm keeping my head down,' '' Belinda said, reading the letter. " 'I feel like I have a guardian angel on my shoulder. I worry about my people at home. I'll be home sooner than you think. I'll say a prayer and you say one too. Send my love to everyone.'''

Survivors include his parents, two sisters, Erica Byrd of Belen and Della Canamar of Albuquerque, and a stepbrother, Robert Vallejos of Los Lunas.

From the Chieftan

Related Link:
Henry Byrd remembered

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