Saturday, September 08, 2007

Andrew Nelson laid to rest

The Americans who came of age during World War II are known as the Greatest Generation.

Now, there’s a new great generation, and Staff Sgt. Andrew Nelson represents it, a priest said Thursday at a funeral for the Moorhead soldier.

Nelson, 22, died Aug. 29 in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, of wounds he suffered when insurgents attacked his unit. He was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, nicknamed the “All-Americans.”

“He deserves, as much as anyone, that distinction of All-American,” said the Rev. August Gothman.

Gothman, who knew Nelson when the soldier was a child, delivered his homily to hundreds of mourners at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Moorhead.

“You don’t become an Eagle Scout because it’s easy,” Gothman said.

Nelson grew up in Moorhead and joined the Army after graduating from Fargo’s Shanley High School in 2003.

He was on his third tour in Iraq when he died. He has been awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation medal and others for his service.

According to his obituary, Nelson was captain of the cross country team and participated in football, track and choir. He earned the Eagle Scout award – the highest Boy Scouts award given – in 2002.

He enjoyed fishing as a boy with his father, Daniel, who died in 1999. Nelson later learned to scuba dive.

Through a 4-H program, he trained his dog to interact with seniors and then volunteered at nursing homes.

“It’s one of those deals where he’s kind of too good for this world in a way,” Adam Tehle, a classmate of Nelson’s, said after the funeral.

Nelson knew what it meant to be part of a bigger group, and he knew how to be an individual within that group, Tehle said.

“Everybody would have liked him as a child,” said Rose Marie Wittmer, a member at St. Joseph Church since 1958. She said she doesn’t know the family well but came anyway.

About 700 people attended Nelson’s funeral, said Julie Hardmeyer, liturgy coordinator of the parish.

They stood when pallbearers brought Nelson’s casket to the front of the church and soldiers wearing the 82nd’s signature maroon berets folded the flag draping it with precise movements.

After the service, mourners filed outside the church for a military gun salute. Nelson will be buried today at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered flags flown at half-staff today at the state Capitol complex in Nelson’s honor.

Nelson is survived by his mother, Suzanne, five sisters, two brothers and numerous members of his extended family.

The family is doing “remarkably well, considering the circumstances,” said Todd Taylor, a spokesman for the Nelsons.

“They got so much support from friends, and they’ve got a big extended family, which has made all the difference in the world,” he said.

From the Forum

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