Thursday, May 12, 2005

Army Pfc. Kenneth E. Zeigler II

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Kenneth E. Zeigler II, 22, of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.

Pfc. Zeigler died in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his military vehicle. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia.

A friend in Texas called Vicki Zeigler to share the radio news report: Their boys' infantry division in Iraq had been fired on. There were casualties. "But we took comfort that it wasn't one of our kids," Vicki Zeigler recalled. "We figured [the Army] would have already notified us."

Army officials arrived at her home in Hinesville, Ga., a few hours later. "Please," she recalled praying as she opened the front door. "Don't let it be Kenny. Don't let it be Kenny."

The chaplain realized her worst fears: Pfc. Kenneth E. Zeigler II, 22, of Dillsburg, Pa., was killed May 13 in Baghdad when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Vicki Zeigler traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to honor her son, a man remembered by family members as an accomplished artist and musician who was passionate about his country.

Soft rain fell as Zeigler's flag-draped coffin was taken from the hearse and placed at his gravesite. Family and friends followed behind the military coffin bearers, their colorful umbrellas in sharp contrast to the melancholy ceremony.

Two American flags, folded with precision, were presented to Zeigler's mother and his father, Kenneth Zeigler, along with a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Good Conduct Medal.

"He was my rock," Vicki Zeigler said in a telephone interview a few days before the service, recalling how her son nursed her after a serious accident and through cancer treatments. She described him as shy and artistic, favoring painting and playing the guitar, which he loved.

It was the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that changed her boy, she said. "He felt a tugging at his heartstrings," she said. "He wanted to do something." That something inspired him to join the Army.

Vicki Zeigler said she was stunned by his decision, but she pledged her support, and in March 2003, he enlisted. The Army tested him to see whether he had the skills to become a medic, but he had other plans, his mother said.

"He wanted to fight," she said. "He wanted to make a career out of it."

The last time Katie Zeigler, 24, talked to her brother was in January, just before he was deployed to Iraq. The conversation was brief, but they covered the bases, talking about his favorite band, Metallica, and what would come next for him while he was overseas.

She confessed she was worried for him, but her brother was unafraid. "He said if he died, he'd die doing something he loved," his sister recalled. "He said he'd be happy dying for his country."

Family members said Zeigler was on his way back from patrol, piloting a Humvee, when an explosive detonated.

"He was the love of my life, and as I understand it, I was his," Vicki Zeigler said.

Soldiers would later tell her that when they brought her son back to base after the attack, his heartbeat "was but a breath."

"They were doing CPR and one of the sergeants leaned over Ken and said: 'Don't worry about your mom. We'll take care of her,' " Vicki Zeigler said. "Then he just let go. Up until the very end, he was worried about Mom."

Army Pfc. Kenneth E. Zeigler II was killed in action on 05/12/05.

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