Saturday, September 08, 2007

Daniel Scheibner remembered

For four months, Louise Scheibner faithfully went to mass every morning at St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Muskegon, praying for her son's safe return from Iraq.

She kept pictures of him in his uniform on her refrigerator door and crossed off each day he served his country on her calendar.

"C'mon, you've got to get through another day, Danny," she'd say out loud, even though she was the only one in the kitchen.

At night before she went to bed, she petitioned God some more, using her mother's worn rosary beads to say the prayers she learned as a child, praying him home.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Scheibner, 40, was so close to safety when he was killed Aug. 29 in Al Noor, Iraq, the victim of a roadside bomb.

A platoon sergeant who had 20 years in the Army, Scheibner was on his last combat mission. He was being reassigned that day to headquarters where he'd handle administrative duties.

But first, he wanted to show the new platoon sergeant the ropes. Scheibner hopped in the back seat of the Humvee; the new sarge sat in front next to the driver where Scheibner usually sat. When the bomb went off, only Scheibner was killed.

"It was literally his last mission," says his sister, Diane Cottrell of Muskegon.

Four months into a 15-month deployment in Iraq, Scheibner was scheduled to retire when he came home stateside.

"It's so hard to understand," says Louise Scheibner, a woman who confesses her faith has been shaken.

"My heart's been torn out. I'll never be whole again."

Knowing Danny, as the family still calls him, he was laughing and talking with the new platoon sergeant when the bomb hit. The military authorities assure his family death came instantly.

"He was laughing, and then he was in heaven," his mother says, searching for comfort wherever she can. "We're the ones who are suffering now."

Daniel Scheibner is survived by his wife, the former Ann Aker of Muskegon, whom he told everyone was the "love of his life" even after 17 years of marriage. He leaves their 12-year-old son, Tyler, a child who told his grandmother they "need to be strong right now." Ann and Tyler Scheibner live in Tacoma, Wash., where Daniel Scheibner was stationed at Fort Lewis.

Other survivors include his mother, Louise Scheibner, 67; sister, Diane Cottrell, 43; brother, David Scheibner, 41; and the rest of his family in Muskegon.

The Scheibner family has faced adversity before.

In 1971, Louise Scheibner's husband abandoned her and the kids. She was left as their sole support and their "little family," as she lovingly calls them, drew close together to survive.

"Now we're the ones who have to get through another day," Louise Scheibner says.

Spreading his wings

When Daniel Scheibner was 5, his mother found the baby of the family on the rooftop, checking out the world.

"Look, Mommy!" he shouted to her.

He always had an adventurous streak. He climbed every tree in the neighborhood, built forts in the woods with his brother and "what one didn't think of, the other did," Louise Scheibner says. Only 14 months apart in age, everyone thought the Scheibner boys were twins, and even though they had the usual brotherly rivalry, they were always best friends.

"Still are," David Scheibner says.

In 1987, Danny Scheibner told his mom he wanted to follow his older brother, David, and join the Army. He was 20 and wanted to see what life had to offer and "spread his wings and see what there was outside of Muskegon," his brother says.

He served in Germany and Hawaii. He was a drill sergeant in Fort Sill, Okla., where he took his basic training earlier. He served in the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Most recently, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash.

Twenty years ago, Louise Scheibner had her worries.

"As a mother, I was worried," she remembers, "but I thought: We're civilized now. There will never be another war, not after Vietnam. We've learned our lesson."

Four years into his 20-year hitch in the Army, Daniel Scheibner went to battle in the first Gulf War.

"I was beside myself," Louise Scheibner says.

She immediately tied a yellow ribbon around a favorite tree in her front yard and kept it there until he came home.

The minute he was deployed to Iraq in March, Danny's mother tied a new ribbon around the same tree.

Earlier this week, someone placed flowers at the foot of the tree, in memory of the fallen soldier.

Today the hearse carrying Daniel Scheibner's body home will stop briefly at the house where he grew up within walking distance of Mona Shores High School.

The last time everyone in his family was together was in March when the Muskegon relatives went to Washington state. They'll return to Fort Lewis for another funeral Sept. 19.

"No parent should have to go through this," Louise Scheibner says. "It scares me how many more we're going to lose before this war is done."

On Sunday morning, she went to Mass, as usual.

"I'll still pray for our soldiers. I'll pray for their families," she says. "I'll pray for my Danny."

A sense of duty

His family says he was "larger than life," a 6-foot, 2-inch tall guy who'd grab hold of people and give them "rib-crushing" hugs.

Danny Scheibner loved to tinker with cars and trucks. His first car was a 1966 Cadillac that he bought for $75 and nursed back to life.

"He couldn't keep it in gas," his mother says.

They describe him as "big-hearted," the kind of man who looked for the common thread between strangers. In Iraq, he befriended an Iraqi barber who lost all of his equipment -- so Scheibner went to his PX and bought the barber some clippers so he could work

Being a platoon sergeant was more than a job.

"He loved taking care of his men," David Scheibner says.

In return, the soldiers called him "Smoke," a name reserved for field artillery platoon sergeants. But the men's respect extended to his family.

Scheibner's men always called Ann Scheibner "Mrs. Smoke."

In spring, Scheibner put in for retirement, but before he received his orders, he was deployed to Iraq. The day he shipped out, the U.S. Army extended soldiers' overseas duty from 12 months to 15 months.

Tragedy struck two months after Scheibner landed on Iraqi soil. Over Father's Day weekend, two of his men were killed by a roadside bomb.

The sergeant, a veteran of two wars, delivered their eulogy. A month later, two more of his men were severely injured.

"Then last week, it was Danny's day," his mother says.

From the Muskegon Chronicle

Related Link:
Daniel E. Scheibner dies 'of wounds sustained when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device'