Sunday, December 09, 2007

Army Cpl. Tanner J. O'Leary

Remember Our Heroes

Army Cpl. Tanner J. O'Leary, 23, of Eagle Butte, SD.

Cpl. O'Leary was a combat infantryman with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, N.C., died Dec 9, 2007 in Musa Qal'eh, Afghanistan of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated.

Rapid City Journal — O'Leary, 23, died Sunday in Afghanistan from wounds he received when a roadside bomb detonated. O'Leary was taking a watch-over position as part of a reconnaissance team action in Musa Qal'eh, Afghanistan.

O'Leary was a combat infantryman with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, N.C.

An operation involving the Afghan army and NATO's International Security Assistance Force was launched last Friday to retake Musa Qal'eh from the Taliban.

His family says Tanner O'Leary died in Afghanistan while serving his first tour there. He's a Timber Lake High School graduate who grew up between there and Eagle Butte. Now his family is struggling through a time when they could use him the most.

In West River, South Dakota, on a day like this, his family says Tanner O'Leary would have been a good person to have around.

The second member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to die in support of U.S. military military operations in the Middle East, was happy in the Army, according to a former teacher and friend who spoke with Cpl. Tanner O'Leary just before he was deployed in August.

Pfc. Sheldon Hawk Eagle, 21, of Eagle Butte, the other member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to be killed Mideast operations, died November 15, 2003, when two Army helicopters crashed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

O'Leary's death impacts many people living on the vast Cheyenne River Reservation, where the term "community" is not measured by proximity or kinship, but by the people you know and the children you watch grow to adulthood.

"Pretty easy-going, happy-go-lucky kid,” cousin Shanna Anderson said. “It's easy to be around somebody who's happy all the time, ‘every day's a good day’ type of person," Anderson said.

He might have done some of the things his family says he did so often- crack a joke, work outside or just enjoy time with the people he loved, who are now trying to cope with his death.

He has a little girl and of course that's the twinkle in his eye. He sure thought a lot of her and she thought a lot of him too.”

"I know he's in heaven, you know, I know he's saved. And I know Jesus is in his heart, and he believed it," Anderson said.

Anderson says he believed he was doing the right thing when he joined the army and she's proud of him for that. That’s true even now that she knows he won't be around any more to work with horses or share times like this past July.

"Yeah, that's the last time he was home. We got word that he was going to Afghanistan," Anderson said.

He was around to help get through it then, but not this time, not when they got word that the son and brother of Carmen and Tully O'Leary, the father of 4-year-old Alexis, the cousin of Shanna Anderson won't be coming back.

"You know, you rely on God. He brings the peace and the joy again. The sun will shine again," Anderson said.

O'Leary grew up on the family ranch southwest of Timber Lake, where he lived with his mother, Carmen O'Leary, and a sister Tully, 16, and was surrounded by a close extended family.

He also leaves a four-year-old daughter, Alexis.

A cousin, Melissa O'Leary, said O'Leary's death is hard on everyone, especially his mother.

O'Leary would be proud of his mother's courage this week, Melissa O'Leary said.

"He was proud of her anyway, but he would be especially proud of her now," she said. "We all want to honor Tanner."

Tanner O’Leary, a 2003 graduate of the Timber Lake High School, had been in Afghanistan since September. He joined the Army in 2005.

Cousin Melissa O’Leary, 31, of Timber Lake said the family hasn’t learned yet how Tanner O’Leary died, though they received the news on Monday night.

Melissa O’Leary said her youngest cousin was a beautiful person. They grew up together on the same ranch 20 miles west of Timber Lake.

“He was extremely kind, very funny ... just very fun loving,” she said. “He was really so smart. He was absolutely a joy.

“Most important, he was a wonderful father.”

His family says O'Leary just turned 23 in September.

He attended Northern State University in Aberdeen before joining the Army in 2005.

The O'Leary family has a strong tradition of military service, Melissa O'Leary said. Tanner O'Leary is the third of his generation of O'Leary men to serve in the military.

His death cuts deeply into a community that has seen more than its share of tragedy and death in the past two years, according to Chris Bohlander, elementary-school principal in Timber Lake.

Bohlander taught science when O'Leary was in high school.

"This is a close community," he said. "Quite a few of the staff taught Tanner."

O'Leary was a good student with a keen interest in biology, which often challenged Bohlander, but also forged a strong relationship between the pair.

"Teaching him made me go home and want to teach better, because he just ate it up," Bohlander said. "He was hungry to learn."

Bohlander will also cherish memories of O'Leary's zest for life and an infectious smile that usually hinted "he was coming up with a zinger."

His grandmother Arlene O'Leary, 77, clings to memories of that smile. She watched her grandson grow up just next door. He worked hard on the ranch, at school and at life, she said.

"He was my happy little clown," Arlene O'Leary said. "He was a trickster. I loved him so much from infancy."

A good high school athlete, O'Leary didn't "go so much for the medals and trophies as much as he loved the game."

Her grandson was also a devoted father to his daughter. He wanted to be the "best father in the world" because he grew up without a father, she said.

"He wanted to take care of his little girl," Melissa O'Leary said. "His primary concern was his daughter." The family learned Wednesday that Tanner O'Leary's cousin, Capt. Brian O'Leary, will escort his body home, Arlene O'Leary said.

Brian O'Leary is serving in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne and has started home, she said. This is his second deployment.

Funeral services for Tanner O'Leary have not been scheduled but will take place in Timber Lake.

Bohlander's last conversation with O'Leary was in July when the infantryman was home on leave. The men met one night at a convenience store.

A man had replaced the boyish high school student Bohlander remembered. "He looked like a soldier."

O'Leary was excited about seeing his daughter, who lives in Mankato, Minn., Bohlander recalled.

And, O'Leary was emphatic that the Army was where he was supposed to be, Bohlander said.

"He was there because he wanted to be," Bohlander said. "That gives me peace."

Army Cpl. Tanner J. O'Leary was killed in action on 12/09/07.

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