Monday, September 03, 2007

Sandy Britt laid to rest

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
-- from the 'Soldier's Creed'

As the funeral procession weaved through Lake Mary on Friday, small groups of people gathered along the route to pay their respects.

Outside Cycle Riders Longwood, red-shirted employees stood with their thumbs raised high. Along the busy highway, Seminole County Sheriff's Office staffers stood with their right hands across their hearts. And near the Sanford city limits, firefighters with Seminole County Engine 35 issued stoic salutes.

They banded together in the lunchtime heat to salute one of their own, a hometown son with ties to Lake Mary and Apopka. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sandy Richard Britt is among the at least 152 Floridians killed so far in the Iraq war.

Earlier that morning, about 175 family and friends of Britt, who died Aug. 21 in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, gathered at First Baptist Church of Longwood to put into words all that the community had lost.

After the eulogies and fond remembrances, the Rev. Chris Whaley addressed the question on everyone's mind: "I don't understand why things like this happen to good people."

The image burned in Michael Deaver's brain is of a young boyhood friend with a big smile who ran in packs playing soldier and soccer in their backyards and swimming.

"We played a lot of war, guns and Army -- and he was quite good at it," Deaver, 31, told me after the service.

As much as Britt loved his country, friends said he lived for his family: his wife, Valorie, and son, Taylor, 5.

During the service, Valorie Britt received a Gold Star banner, a remembrance of those who die in war. Taylor was given a teddy bear dressed in a T-shirt with his father's photo.

At Oaklawn Memorial Park in Lake Mary, Britt's family gathered under a tent as an honor guard lifted Old Glory from their fallen soldier's silver coffin, folded it into a grim triangle and placed it in Valorie's hands.

Three shots fired. And then silence.

And finally, with the first few notes of taps, the strong front Valorie had erected crumbled and the grief poured through.

After a time, uniformed men knelt and presented the family with Britt's Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal. Taylor looked on, admiring the medals, as a soldier explained what each one meant.

A community is a melting pot of people who bring something different to the table.

But Deaver wasn't sure the community his friend had known had lost anything at all.

"As I'm driving here and I see people who we don't even know standing on the side of road with their hands over their hearts," he said, "I see the strength, the determination, and the willingness to fulfill his mission in the military. And now that perspective will live inside of us present here today and inside the people who stood alongside the road.

"As a community, Orlando is a better place because of the strength that Sandy had and the spirit Sandy had in his life," he said.

During the church service, a comrade recounted a story of Britt wrestling an older soldier, who good-naturedly asked for mercy. Britt, adhering to the Soldier's Creed, offered no quarter.

As his coffin disappeared into the ground, all I could think was this: "Heads up, Lord. Sandy's coming."

From the Orlando Sentinel

Related Link:
Sandy Britt remembered

Related Link:
Sandy R. Britt dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat operations'