Thursday, August 16, 2007

Justin O. Penrod dies 'of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device'

In between his service in the Army National Guard and his enlistment in the regular Army, Spc. Penrod had a job fixing air-conditioners for P&P Service Center in Mahomet.

In 2004, a customer introduced Spc. Penrod to the customer's daughter, Christina Whittington; within a couple of months, they were married, just in time for Spc. Penrod to head off to Iraq. The couple have an 8-month-old son, Colin.

Spc. Penrod crammed a lot of life and a little mischief into his 24 years, before he was killed Saturday when a bomb in Baghdad went off as he and his infantry buddies chased after a sniper.

It was the second tour in Iraq for Spc. Penrod, who friends say had a lifelong interest in the military, helping the less fortunate and "getting into trouble."

His mother, Tina Tuttle of Danville, said that as a young boy, Spc. Penrod helped a disabled neighbor up and down the stairs.

"He always wanted to help people that need help," she said, adding that he could be "ornery" as well.

His childhood friend Justin Duez said the two of them got into some trouble while in Danville public schools, but both started to straighten out after they became cadets at Rantoul's Lincoln's Challenge Academy. Spc. Penrod graduated from the academy and, at age 17, followed his friend Duez into the Illinois National Guard in Danville.

Spc. Penrod spent most of his formative years with his father and stepmother, George and Diane Penrod of Danville.

Diane Penrod said that he treated her as his mother and his stepbrother, Rick Reavis, as a true brother.

"Rick was a quadriplegic, and Justin, as a teenager, put his whole life on hold to take care of him. Justin would put him in a wheelchair and they'd go to the mall or movies. He wanted to make sure Rick wasn't lonely," she said.

Rick Reavis died in 2002 at 26.

Duez recalls Spc. Penrod as an all-around athlete, but his sister says that with time, he became more interested in music and in helping people.

"He loved playing baseball, but as he got older, he became more of a couch potato, sitting on the couch with his cat, Hootie, and listening to alternative music," said Listia Lyons, who now lives in Alabama.

After serving in the National Guard, he came home and went to work at Lincoln's Challenge.

Sgt. Raymond Zufall, who worked with Spc. Penrod at the National Guard-sponsored school, said his life experiences made him a superior instructor.

"Being that he'd already been here, he could identify with the kids a lot better than we could," Zufall said. "He expected the best out of the cadets, and he got it."

Zufall, who'd known the soldier since boyhood in Danville, said Spc. Penrod was "an original."

"He had a weird sense of humor and liked his mischief, but he could find the good in anybody and wanted to help," Zufall said.

After his stint in the National Guard, Spc. Penrod worked a while at P&P Service in Mahomet, repairing air-conditioners. That's where he met Christina's father, who insisted that Spc. Penrod meet his daughter.

"Justin's a good-looking boy," Diane Penrod noted.

That summer went fast.

"We met in July; he proposed in August; we got married in November (of 2004). In January of 2005, he went on his first tour in Iraq," Christina Penrod said.

Spc. Penrod re-upped for his second tour in Baghdad shortly after his son, Colin, was born, and left for that deployment in July.

From the News-Gazette