Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nick Gummersall laid to rest

POCATELLO - Ten feet tall and bulletproof.

Nick Gummersall adopted the words as his credo in high school after rolling his car three times and walking away unscathed.

The five words surfaced often Friday morning in the stories told by friends and family members during the fallen Army sergeant's funeral.

Gummersall, a member of the 2nd Infantry Division of the 23rd Infantry Regiment based in Fort Lewis, Wash., was killed on Aug. 6 in Baqubah, Iraq, when an improvised explosive devise exploded near his patrol.

The 23-year-old was remembered as a fiercely competitive, fearless, confident, tough, witty and loyal friend who believed he could accomplish anything and exuded an aura of invincibility.

He was a man who, at age 3, overcame a 14-day bout with spinal meningitis that nearly claimed his life and was back to roughhousing with his brother in no time. He was a standout athlete who once broke his arm in a football game and begged the coach, with no success, to let him back on the field.

From birth, Gummersall was constantly active and had an adventurous spirit, his big brother, Casey, said while offering a life sketch rife with humor.

''When he was 2, he liked to climb in the dryer,'' Casey said. ''One morning, my dad decided to teach Nick the first of many lessons. My dad closed the door, and Nick went around twice.''

It was fitting that the memorial service took place on the 50-yard line of the Century football field.

During his sophomore football season at Century, Gummersall rushed for at least 100 yards in every game.

Perhaps Gummersall's most phenomenal moment on the gridiron came during a game when the Diamondbacks' starting running back got hurt. Gummersall took his place and rushed for 347 yards that day.

He went on to become a member of the Idaho State University Bengals' practice squad, and he hoped to walk on to the Boise State University team this fall.

Gummersall was a man who, as Casey described it, decided to climb Mt. Rainier with a friend just to drink a beer on the top.

In Iraq, Gummersall often joked that he couldn't wait to get home so he could beat up his dad and his brother, Casey, and then beat his mom at golf. He made quick believers of his fellow soldiers when he claimed to be 10 feet tall and bulletproof.

Maj. General Alan W. Thrasher, speaking on behalf of the U.S. Army, recounted comments made by Gummersall's peers during an Aug. 13 battalion memorial ceremony.

Gummersall's commander described him as ''larger than life.''

The day before he died, the commander said Gummersall had just returned from a particularly dangerous mission. While other soldiers were discussing the hazards, Nick simply ruffled his hair, smiled and said, ''It was just another great day in Iraq.''

Thrasher said one soldier described Gummersall as a mentor who would work extra guard duty so his comrades could sleep in. Gummersall's motto in combat, according to the soldiers who became like family to him, was, ''Go big or go home.''

Gummersall was helping to distribute humanitarian supplies when he was killed.

''Nick was serving in a unit whose mission today requires equal measures of courage and compassion,'' Thrasher said. ''This dangerous duty was only natural to him.''

Gummersall had served two previous tours in Iraq and a tour in Afghanistan before his most recent deployment in June 2006. He would likely be alive today had the tour not been extended by an additional three months.

Nick's only comment to Casey about the extension was, ''Don't worry. It'll be fine.''

Lewis Jensen, a former football teammate and best friend of Gummersall, remembers the day the news broke about the tragedy and the incredulous response from the soldier's mother, Carol:

''How can this happen? He was 10 feet tall and bulletproof.''

From the State Journal

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