Sunday, September 02, 2007

Andrew P. Nelson dies 'of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit'

Andrew Nelson was an altar boy, an Eagle Scout and a soldier.

"He had a servant's heart," said the Rev. Mike Foltz, the priest of the Moorhead, Minn., church where Nelson worshipped as a youth.

This week, 22-year-old Nelson gave the ultimate service to his country. The Army staff sergeant was killed Wednesday in Iraq, a family spokesman said.

Nelson died in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, after insurgents attacked his unit, the U.S. Department of Defense said today, adding that the circusmtances of his death were under investigation.

Nelson's family in Moorhead was told Nelson died while on a foot patrol in a small town outside Tikrit, family friend Todd Taylor said.

It was Nelson's third tour of duty in Iraq, Taylor said. Nelson, who was with the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., also served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"Almost his whole time in the military has been spent overseas," Taylor said.

He said Nelson was born and raised in Moorhead and enlisted in the Army while still in high school. Three days after his 2003 graduation from Shanley High School in Fargo, N.D., he was off to basic training, Taylor said.

Taylor said Nelson had to get his mother's signature to enlist. She was surprised and reluctant.

"But Andrew told her, 'When I turn 18, this what I'm going to do,' " Taylor said.

"I think Andrew felt it was his duty to do this. It didn't surprise me one bit that he made this decision," he said.

Foltz had hoped Nelson, who was a youth peer minister, might take another path.
"I tried to get him thinking about the priesthood," Foltz said.

"That didn't get very far."

His father was a Korean War veteran, and his grandfather was a veteran of both world wars, Foltz said.

"I think it was in his blood," Foltz said.

Taylor said Nelson didn't talk much about his experiences in Iraq, although he expressed frustration that the Iraqi people "weren't willing to help themselves."

"He definitely grew up quick. He's definitely a born leader," Taylor said.

"He was absolutely one of the best," said Ron Schneider, who was Nelson's Scout leader when Nelson was a youth. Schneider said he last saw Nelson when he was home in July on leave.

"He was just talking a little bit about being home and going to the lakes and doing some fishing," he said. "He talked about the task they had of more or less going door to door, looking for the bad guys.

"As sad as it is, it's hard not to be proud, extremely proud."

Taylor said Nelson planned to go to college and seek an engineering degree when his term of enlistment was up next spring.

Foltz said Nelson's faith was important to him as he fought in Iraq. A few days before he died, Nelson talked to his mother on the phone and told her about a small crucifix, blessed by the pope, that his uncle, a priest, had given to him.

"He said, 'You know I carry that with me every day, wherever I go,' '' Foltz said. "That was the last time they talked."

Nelson's father died in 1999, Taylor said. Nelson is survived by his mother, Suzanne Nelson, and sister, Jessica, both of Moorhead.

"Sue puts up a good front, but they're devastated. Her husband died and now Andrew," Taylor said.

Funeral arrangements at St. Joseph's Catholic Church were pending.

"It's still kind of unreal," Foltz said. "When we receive the casket, it will all hit home."

Nelson is the 55th military member from Minnesota to die in Iraq.

From the Pioneer Press