Thursday, August 16, 2007

Billy (William L.) Edwards dies 'of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire'

Marykay Edwards clearly remembers the sound of her son's enthusiastic voice as it traveled via telephone wire from the other side of the world.

Deployed to the Arab Jabour region south of Baghdad, Pfc. William Lawrence Edwards didn't have easy access to phones or the Internet. But the 23-year-old Aggie, who was known as Billy to his friends and family, managed to check in with his parents every two or three weeks.

"Mom!" he would enthusiastically say as she answered the call.

Just days after learning that Billy Edwards had been killed by a sniper in Iraq, the Somerville mother said she still expected to pick up the ringing phone and hear his voice.

"I surely did not want to open that door," she said, her voice trailing off as she recalled learning that her son had been killed. "I was hoping maybe he just had been really seriously injured, but. ..."

Billy Edwards was among five soldiers killed Saturday when the group was attacked by small-arms fire from enemy forces, according to U.S. Defense Department reports. Edwards was shot by a sniper, his parents said, while the other four soldiers were killed by a bomb that went off when one of the soldiers stepped on it.

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

He grew up in Houston, where he graduated from Stratford High School in Spring Branch. His family moved to Somerville after he enrolled at Texas A&M, where he was a member of the Corps of Cadets C2 unit.

He was enrolled at the College Station campus from fall 2002 through fall 2003, a university spokesman said. He spent spring 2004, his last semester in college, at Texas A&M-Galveston. Family members said he left college to join the military.

Marykay Edwards said her son always had been a "military kid." During Operation Desert Storm, he and friends, pretending to be Iraqis, would go outside armed with sticks and shoot up neighborhood trees, she recalled.

After his first semester at Stratford, Billy Edwards told his parents he wanted to attend the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, where a friend was enrolled. The teen stayed at the military school through his junior year.

"My son ... had a mind of his own. What can I say?" Marykay Edwards said.

Billy Edwards also was active in the Boy Scouts, obtaining Eagle Scout status at 15, his mother said. He was an avid camper and rose to the post of senior patrol leader, ultimately supervising the 125 boys in his troop.

The Edwardses said they weren't surprised when their son came to them with a plan to leave school and enlist. Though he had a Navy scholarship, Marykay Edwards said, her son was insistent on joining the infantry. And so, in February 2006, he did. He deployed to Iraq on May 11, 2007.

"He never looked back," she said. "He was very happy where he was, very happy with his choice of career. It didn't shake him at all to go to Iraq. He had a job to do, and that's that."

The Edwardses last spoke to their son Wednesday - just three days before he was killed. On a three-day leave, Billy Edwards called his parents from the royal gardens in Baghdad, where he and fellow soldiers had gotten to take lengthy showers and lounge poolside for hours.

"It was great. He was just so happy," she said, recalling their last conversation. "He said, 'Oh, Mom, you ought to see this place. You wouldn't believe it.'"

On Saturday, there was a knock on the door of the family's Somerville home, and the parents immediately recognized the uniform and what it meant. Marykay Edwards said she asked the casualty officer if there was any chance the Army had made a mistake in identification. Deep down, she knew the answer was no. But she desperately wanted to cling to a shred of hope.

"It was a shock to us," added William Lee Edwards Jr., the soldier's father. "We just talked to him."

Marykay Edwards seemed wistful Monday as she thought about her son, whom she described as a great sport with a great sense of humor. He had a beautiful smile, she said, and his eyes were great big pools of blue.

"Billy and I talked about him going over there," she said. "My husband and I always had our wills done and gave the kids copies. I knew Billy had a will ... but I just never thought he wouldn't come home."

From the Eagle