Sunday, September 23, 2007

Donald E. Valentine III dies 'of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat operations'

The sun-faded yellow ribbons tied to the cul-de-sac trees weren't enough to protect Army Spc. Donald Valentine III in Iraq.

The 21-year-old soldier and two others from a Fort Lewis, Wash., combat team died Tuesday in Muqdadiyah, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near their unit, according to the Department of Defense.

"I just want everyone to know he was a hero," his mother, Anna Valentine, said Thursday at her home in OakLeaf Plantation. "He was doing a job. He wanted to be out there because of 9/11.

"That's why we were so proud of him."

Valentine was nearing the midway point in his first deployment to Iraq. The 2004 Lee High School graduate joined the Army shortly after getting out of high school - a path not unfamiliar in his family.

His father, Donald Valentine Jr., 43, retired from the Navy two years ago and was in Iraq in 2003. His sister, Monica, is married to a sailor stationed in Italy. His younger brother, Daniel, is planning to join the military and may leave in January.

Even now, the couple said they will respect their younger son's decision, although his mother might try to talk him out of joining.

Especially during a war that has gone on longer than many expected.

"I never imagined [it] would have lasted as long as it has," Donald Valentine Jr. said. "I thought once we took over Baghdad, the war was over."

Valentine had been married a year on Saturday, his mother said. He sometimes would write about him and his wife, Lucia, having a family of their own.

"I'm still thinking about what to do after Iraq," he wrote in July. "Maybe re-enlist. I still don't know yet. If we do have a kid, I'm gonna reclass to a different job. ..."

That letter continued: "I told Lucia we're going on a honeymoon in the summer. She's real excited."

"She's still in a daze," Anna Valentine said. "[Lucia] can't believe this has happened."

When their eldest son left for Iraq in March, the Valentines tied yellow ribbons around a half-dozen trees in the front yard of their home in a neighborhood of neat stucco houses.

In letters home and frequent 3 a.m. phone calls, Valentine was upbeat, planning for the future.

Messages about how he was doing and thinking. Messages - one that still hasn't arrived - to ease his family's worries.

Anna Valentine works at the Navy Exchange, where she usually wore a large button with a photo of her son in uniform in front of a flag.

"People would come up and say 'tell your son thank you; thank you for protecting us.' "

As word of his death traveled Wednesday, a rose and a photo of Valentine were set out for customers to see.

A final memorial.

A chance to offer a quiet, prayerful message of their own.

From the Times-Union