Remembering our region's most recently departed soldiersby Tom Crann, Minnesota Public Radio
Since Memorial Day 2007, 11 members of the military with strong ties to our region have died in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. On this Memorial Day 2008, All Things Considered presents a tiny glimpse of who they were.
Specialist Jacob Fairbanks of Saint Paul was 22. He died from non-combat injuires in Baghdad. He was a proud member of the Leech lake band of Ojibwe. He was involved in ROTC, wrestling and tennis at Saint Paul's Johnson High.
Gergory Rundell from North Saint Paul was killed while on duty in a guard tower in Iraq. In a letter to his family, the 21-year-old said: "Please do not shed a tear if anything happens and don't worry, I don't want tears of loss but tears of happiness of what I was able to do."
People who knew Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Ryan Kahler said there was never any doubt he'd become a soldier. He married his high school sweetheart, Vicki, and they'd been stationed overseas on various assignments. The two had a 4 year old daughter. Kahler was killed in Afghanistan. He was 29 years old.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk was 30 years old. He had been in the Army for nine years and was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Pionk was a native of Oliver, a small town near Superior, Wisconsin. He had recently moved with his wife and three kids to Eveleth, on Minnesota's Iron Range.
Joshua Anderson was lifelong resident of Jordan. He was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle. The 24-year-old was an Army combat medic. His fellow troops called him "Doc," and praised his helpful nature. He is survived by a wife and three-year-old daughter.
Army Specialist Randy Pickering was 31. He left a difficult family situation in his native Missouri behind and had been living in Bovey in Northern Minesota. His brother said he loved video games and had been drawing comic books for years.
Sargeant 1st Class John Tobiason was shot and killed by gunfire when he left his tent. He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq and was 42 years old. He grew up in Bloomington and had moved to Hayfield, in southeastern Minnesota. He was described as quiet and generous and was known for his homemade wine.
Army Staff Sargeant Andrew Nelson died in Tikrit while he was on foot patrol. The 22-year-old was from Moorhead. He was remembered as a dedicated young man, whether to his church, to scouting -- he was an Eagle Scout -- or on his cross country team.
Army Staff Sargeant Jacob Thompson grew up in North Mankato. He was on a house-to-house search in the Iraqi city of Baqubah when he was killed. The 26-year-old loved to hunt and fish. He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. He received a purple heart on his first tour. But he gave it away to another injured comrade who hadn't received one.
Staff Sgt. Robb Rolfing was from Sioux Falls. He died in combat in Baghdad. His dream was to be in the Special Forces. He had already completed one tour of duty when he undertook the difficult Special Forces training. Rolfing played soccer for his Alma mater, Vasser College. He was the second all-time leading scorer there.
Tony Hebert of Lake City was 19 years old. He was killed when an IED exploded near his vehicle. His father remembered Hebert wanted to see the world. He was deeply affected by the September 11th attacks. He played golf, and told his father he "had to step up to the tee sometimes."
(radio music: "Our Town" by Aaron Copland)
- All Things Considered, 05/26/2008, 6:25 p.m.