Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stephen Maddies honored at memorial service

Stephen R. Maddies’ smiling face filled the big-screen TV at the front of the auditorium at the National Guard Armory on Sunday night.

Hundreds gazed at the lively photo of the fallen soldier while the solemn and powerful tones of the hymn "Amazing Grace" reverberated through the armory, the home of Troop F, 2nd squadron of the 278 Armored Cavalry Regiment.

A few words faded in over the soldier’s picture: "We Will Always Remember."

And that is exactly what everyone did.

More than 100 gathered to remember Sgt. Maddies, the son, father, husband, friend and soldier who was killed in Iraq on July 31.

The stifling heat seemed appropriate for the somber service. Everything was still as prayers were said, friends spoke and "Taps" was played, and then a slight, welcome breeze occasionally wafted through the hall.

Maddies was killed by sniper fire outside of Baghdad just 18 days before he was scheduled to return home. It was the end of his second tour in Iraq, for which he volunteered after being home less than a year. He was 41.

Maddies’ military career spanned 15 years of active duty in the U.S. Army and five years with the Tennessee National Guard. He toured in Bosnia, Honduras and Kuwait, plus two stints each in Korea and Iraq.

He died while serving his country, and the memorial service paid tribute to his career. But more than honoring Maddies the soldier, friends and family took time to honor Maddies the man.

"If you had a bad day, he knew how to fix it," said Staff Sgt. Andy Collins, who served with Maddies.

John Spears, who first met Maddies in 2001 and shared a room with him and seven other soldiers while in Iraq, remembered him for his sense of humor.

"He was always messing with someone. It was funny – it made the time go by faster," Spears said. "He was one of those guys, if he was thinking it, he said it."

Another friend, Juan Jordan, said, "He made fun of me ’cause I was clumsy. He loved to make fun of me when I would go to the gym. He always said, ‘I’m fat and I know it.’

As Jordan relayed the story, the group of soldiers around him starting laughing and nodded their heads in agreement.

The conversation was full of "remember whens," and each memory sparked smiles and laughter. During the service, several fellow soldiers stood at the podium to speak. They talked about Maddies, fighting tears, and pausing from time to time.

"I see the vets out there, Vietnam vets and World War II vets," one soldier said. "You guys know the bond that grows. He’ll always be right here, ’cause we never forget, do we, guys?"

Staff Sgt. Donald Furley remembered the time Maddies dared him to wrap a band-aid around the rim of the "nerdy glasses" he had to wear for protection. Furley said he’d put the bandage on, but only if Maddies agreed to steal the bus parked behind them.

Maddies agreed, and for the next couple of days he drove himself and his fellow soldiers to and from the chow hall.

Maddies left behind a wife, four children, his mother, and brothers and sisters. It was obvious Sunday night that he also left behind a number of friends.

At the end of the service, Command Sgt. Maj. John Cartwright delivered the last roll call.

He called each name of the men in the troop:

"Staff Sergeant John Spears."

"Present, Sgt. Major," Spears said.

"Staff Sergeant Andy Collins."

"Present, Sgt. Major," Collins said.

The list went on, and one by one, and each soldier stood. Then Cartwright called the final name:

"Staff Sergeant Stephen Maddies."

A cool breeze drifted through the silent auditorium. No one said a word.

From the Bristol Herald Courier

Related Link:
Stephen Maddies remembered

Related Link:
Stephen R. Maddies dies 'of wounds suffered from enemy small arms fire'