Saturday, September 08, 2007

Erick Foster laid to rest

Hundreds of Venango County residents turned out Wednesday to pay tribute to a native son who was killed last week in Iraq.

Funeral services for Capt. Erick M. Foster, the 29-year-old son of former Oil City residents Robert and Barbara Foster, were held at 11 a.m. in First United Methodist Church of Franklin. Foster died Aug. 29 in Balad, Iraq, of injuries he received when his unit was attacked by insurgent small arms fire in Muqdadiya.

He was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Family, friends and military members gathered in the sanctuary of the church to honor and remember the fallen soldier who was born in Oil City and attended the Oil City schools until moving to Wexford as a teenager.

Outside, the sidewalks surrounding the church were lined with flag-carrying members of the Patriot Guard, several hundred residents of the community, local military members and law enforcement officials. They stood ready for nearly two hours in the heat of a late summer day.

Foster's brother-in-law, Mike Werkheiser of Missouri, offered the message for those at the funeral.

"In a matter of a few short moments, he went from a hell on earth to experiencing the very presence of Jesus Christ," Werkheiser said.

Werkheiser told two intimate stories of tears. The first represented the tears of sadness as he described the pain in telling his wife that her brother had died. The second story, from about four months ago, was of the tears of joy that Werkheiser feels will assist the family as it grieves the loss of a son and brother.

"The tears of joy and complete elation four months ago when (Erick) gave his life to God were the opposite of those tears of sadness," he said.

Werkheiser said Foster's acceptance of his religious beliefs provided him a very real hope.

"Tomorrow is not promised to any of us," he said.

The time of sharing for family and friends included Robert Foster and Elizabeth Werkheiser who remembered a beloved son and brother.

"There are so many good memories. We are so proud of his life and his legacy. ... .And now, memories are all that we have, and I don't have enough," Elizabeth Werkheiser said.

Robert Foster said his son was proud of his military service and honored the responsibilities he was given.

"I implore all of you to not take freedom lightly or take it for granted. ... He believed in duty, honor and country," the elder Foster said.

Brig. Gen. Frank Turner III said the jobs entrusted to Foster during his military career are "the toughest jobs in the military."

"He led his men from the front. He was a 'follow me, do as I do, leader,'" Turner said.

A letter from the squadron chaplain described Foster as a "commander of one of the most elite reconnaissance groups in the military."

Capt. Foster was a graduate of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in May 2000. He served his first tour of 14 months during the Iraqi Freedom invasion. He earned his Airborne Ranger tab and reported to the 82nd Airborne Division in April 2004. He became an Airborne JumpMaster before he was designated a troop commander in October 2006.

His awards and decorations include two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the National Defense Service Medal, The Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global war on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Armed Forces Service medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Combat Action Badge, the Parachutist's Badge and the Ranger Tab.

A presentation was made prior to funeral services for the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. The awards already had been received by the soldier, but the presentation was made posthumously to the family, according to Maj. Tom Earnhardt, 82nd Airborne.

Leaving the church after the funeral services, family and friends were greeted by an outpouring of support.

Several hundred people lined the streets adjacent to the church, and hundreds more stood along Route 8 to Oil City and on several Oil City streets leading to Grove Hill Cemetery, answering a request Tuesday from local veterans' organizations to show respect and support for the soldier.

Solemn construction workers took a break from their duties near Washington Crossing and removed their hardhats as the funeral procession, led by a cascade of motorcycles, passed. Men and women of all ages held flags, stood in salute or with bowed heads as the convoy made its way. Workers at many of the corridor's industries left their air-conditioned offices and shops to offer support. Unofficial estimates calculated more than 1,000 participants.

"All of us who visited from Ft. Bragg were deeply moved by the community's reception as we came through Franklin and Oil City. It was truly remarkable. All of the paratroopers there were very moved by it and we appreciated the support of the community - not only for the division and our fallen comrade, but for the family as well," Earnhardt said.

Members of the local military honor guard stood watch at the cemetery as the uniformed pallbearers guided the casket to the burial site on a hillside surrounded by towering pines at Grove Hill Cemetery.

A gentle breeze flowed through the silent crowd, caressing the tear-stained faces of mourners as bagpipe music floated softly across the solemn gathering.

Reverberations from the 21-gun salute catapulted the assembly from the quietness of grief to a heightened awareness of activity as the pallbearers folded the American flag which had been draped over the casket.

The flag was presented to Capt. Foster's mother and his Calvary hat and golden spurs were given to his father, remembrances of a son whose childhood dream was to be a soldier.

From the Oil City Derrick

Related Link:
Erick M. Foster dies 'of wounds sufferedwhen insurgents attacked his unit during combat operations'