Seven Years Later, A Soldier Dies In Iraq
LIANE HANSEN, host:
As the U.S. marked the seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq War last week, the family of Army Specialist Robert Reickhoff learned hed been killed by enemy fire there. Hed been in the Army for eight years, since his graduation from high school in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio has this remembrance.
CHUCK QUIRMBACH: After some part-time jobs in Kenosha and a stint in the Reserves after high school, Robert Reickhoff enlisted in the Army. His relatives say he was a friendly guy and couldve joined the family lawnmower repair business, but instead entered the service because it offered him a way to stay out of trouble in Kenosha and to support his family. When he was killed last week at the age of 26, Robert Reickhoff was divorced with two children, ages four and eight.
It was as a child that his grandmother, Judith Nelson, noticed his intense focus. She called him Bubba and he called her Mimi. And she remembers he would come to her after hours of playing the Super Mario video game.
Ms. JUDITH NELSON: His thumbs got so sore from pushing them buttons. He'd come, Mimi, Mimi. And I'd say, oh, honey. And Id wrap his little thumbs up and he'd go right back to it.
QUIRMBACH: Nelson helped raise Reickhoff, watching with pride as he made friends at either his home in Tennessee or in this blue-collar neighborhood on Kenosha's west side. He was a kid that always tried to make people laugh and was eager to bring his friends home to meet his family. Reickhoff's stepsister, Jolene Garwood(ph), says he was also quick to look out for his siblings.
Ms. JOLEEN GARWOOD: When one of us were down or something, like say we were crying or we got pushed down or we scraped a knee, he'd come up there and he'll comfort us and we'd be happy. And we'd be going off again and then same thing would happen again. And he'd do it again.
QUIRMBACH: Eventually, Robert Reickhoff went on to video games for adolescents.
(Soundbite of music)
QUIRMBACH: Like this mid-'90s creation Desert Strike, which was apparently inspired by the first Gulf War.
Reickhoff's grandmother says that could be what got him interested in joining the Army. He served a tour of duty in both Kuwait and in Iraq, and was on his second tour in Iraq when he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade while on guard duty. His stepfather, Roland Garwood, says the Army played a big role in making Robert Reickhoff who he was.
Mr. ROLAND GARWOOD: He was a good man before he went, now he's an awesome man. He's my hero.
QUIRMBACH: Robert Reickhoff's family is now trying to preserve their memories of him. They recall the meals and gifts he bought them while home on leave in January, and they like to play his favorite song on their boom box.
(Soundbite of song, "Far Away")
NICKELBACK: (Singing) Far away, far away for far too long...
QUIRMBACH: His relatives say Nickelback's tune, "Far Away," describes how Robert could be stationed overseas but still be thinking of his family, who he tried to stay in near constant contact with. In the living room of her modest, white, two-story house, Judith Nelson takes out a recent keepsake.
Ms. NELSON: (unintelligible)
QUIRMBACH: She unwraps a poster featuring a picture of her grandson in his Army fatigues.
Ms. NELSON: See, it says American Hero, then on the bottom, you proudly served your country doing all that you must do to protect our land, keep it free.
QUIRMBACH: Robert Reickhoff was promoted to sergeant shortly before he was killed. His family hopes the Army will forward them the official notification so they can have it framed.
For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach.