Monday, February 20, 2006

Army Sgt. Jessie Davila

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Jessie Davila, 29, of Greensburg, Kansas

Sgt. Davila was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry, Kansas Army National Guard, Lawrence, Kan.; killed Feb. 20 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad.

By Tim Vandenack
The Hutchinson News

FORT DODGE - Family, friends, political leaders, several hundred motorcyclists and others paid their last respects Saturday to Sgt. Jessie Davila, the Kansas National Guardsman from Greensburg killed last month in Iraq.

In the lead-up to the funeral service, the grounds around the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City took on the air of a multifaceted political rally.

About 700 flag-waving members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclists and others who attend U.S. soldiers' funerals around the country, were on hand, though they didn't enter the church.

"Our whole goal is to honor a fallen soldier and their family and their community," said Jeff Brown of Broken Arrow, Okla., the group's executive director.

Across North 14th Avenue in front of Our Lady, about 20 demonstrators from Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church waved placards, pushing their view that the death in Iraq of U.S. soldiers is punishment from God for tolerance of homosexuality and other social ills. They flew four U.S. flags, including one that appeared to be partially torched, upside down.

About 200 other counter-protestors stood across 14th Avenue with their backs to the Westboro contingent, blocking their view of Our Lady and waving U.S. flags, right side up.

"The family is due some respect," said Brent Schrader of Dodge City, one of the counter-protestors.

Davila, 29, who deployed to Iraq last November, died on Feb. 20 when an apparent suicide bomber drove alongside his two-car convoy in Baghdad and detonated an explosive device.

"I just appreciate the fact that the man lived and died for our country," said John Bertram of Haviland, a family acquaintance.

Saturday's ceremonies started with a memorial in Greensburg, followed by a funeral service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City and burial in Kansas Veterans Cemetery in Fort Dodge. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and several other area lawmakers, including Rep. Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, attended the service.

Meanwhile, a handful of demonstrators from yet another group, the Kansas Equality Coalition, which calls for the end of discrimination against homosexuals, demonstrated about 100 yards down from the Westboro group.

Father Ted Skalsky of Our Lady seemed to allude to the controversy during the service. But he emphasized that Davila's burial, at its core, is an intensely personal matter.

"Yes, the funeral has national and even international implications," he said. "But the bottom line, it is a personal loss for very many of you."

Similarly, most used the occasion just to pay tribute to Davila.

"He was a stand-up guy and always there when you needed him, always had a smile," said Josh Huckriede, a high school friend now living in Wichita who attended Saturday's ceremonies. "I don't think I ever saw him without a smile."

Another family friend, Ann Dixson, said, "He was a practical joker, ornery, in a good way."

Davila, who joined the Kansas National Guard after finishing a stint in the U.S. Marines, was helping escort a contingent of U.S. Air Force intelligence officers when the Feb. 20 attack occurred. Also killed was Dan Kuhlmeier, an Air Force special agent from Philadelphia.

Before his deployment, Davila, who was posthumously promoted from specialist to sergeant, had been working on a Hodgeman County ranch. He is survived by numerous relatives, including his parents, his stepmother, a daughter and his fiancee.

Despite his fierce demeanor and physical presence as a warrior, being a dad brought out a softer side of Jessie Davila."As a dad he was so special," said his stepmother, Linda Klaus. "He was firm, but gentle. ... He knew how to express his love to someone and wasn't afraid to show that."

Army Sgt. Jessie Davila was killed in action on 02/20/06.

No comments: