Saturday, December 23, 2006

Army Specialist Michael J. Crutchfield

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Michael J. Crutchfield, 21, of Stockton, Calif.

Spc. Crutchfield was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Dec. 23 of a non-combat related injury in Balad, Iraq. Crutchfield's death is under investigation.

A wrenching farewell
As Stockton soldier laid to rest, mother has doubts about suicide

By Daniel Thigpen
Record Staff Writer

TRACY - Standing just a few feet from her son's open casket, Anna Alford was not ready to concede that he had put himself there.

Not the soldier, the chess master, the video-game whiz; the young man friends said constantly pushed people to better themselves.

"His life was bright. And his life was brighter than many people may think," she told a small crowd of family, friends and even a few strangers at a Saturday morning memorial service for her son, Army Spc. Michael J. Crutchfield.

In July, the 21-year-old Crutchfield left with his Fort Bragg, N.C., unit for Iraq. He died Dec. 23 in Balad, north of Baghdad.

Days later, the Department of Defense reported his death was noncombat-related and under investigation. An Army spokesman at Fort Bragg said Crutchfield killed himself.

But during a somber gathering at a Tracy chapel Saturday, Crutchfield's mother said she still has her doubts.

"I'm not certain if it is suicide," Alford said. "I haven't seen a piece of paper in front of me that says it is."

Mostly, however, those close to him chose to focus not on the way he died but instead on the way he lived.

Nicholas Pedercini, 19, who said Crutchfield moved in with him and his family for more than a year, recalled an enthusiastic friend who would wake the house up to join him in whatever he had chosen to pursue that day, whether it was jogging or spending hours at a mall arcade.

"He was always trying to lift everybody else up, but apparently none of us were around to help him," he said.

Crutchfield grew up in his mother's house in French Camp but left home when he was 16 and entered the foster care system, said his sister, Amber Crutchfield. She said she was not sure why he left; he did not confide in her or other family members the reasons.

"It just happened," she said outside the chapel. "He wanted to do that."

Michael Crutchfield enlisted in the Army when he was 19, said his father, Steve Crutchfield, who lives in Nevada.

The last time he saw his son was during a visit in April, just a few months before Michael was deployed to Iraq. He said his son seemed to be in good spirits and excited about serving overseas.

"He was great. He was ready to go," Steve Crutchfield said after the funeral.

Friends said Michael Crutchfield did not talk about his problems or his childhood.

Instead, he appeared to be the one they often depended on. His comrades in the Army nicknamed him "Crutch," because they leaned on him for information in his unit, said Brig. Gen. John McMahon.

Outside the memorial service Saturday, more than a dozen members of a motorcycle club for Vietnam War veterans stood in the parking lot, each clutching an American flag.

Another dozen uniformed service members assembled in the back of the chapel. Sobs from a female friend grew louder with each rifle shot during the three-volley salute.

Before the service was over, Crutchfield's mother appealed to the people before her to seek help for whatever trials they may endure but to remember to reach out as well.

"Let's help people out there who do need an extra hand," she said. "It's not such a lonely world."

Army Specialist Michael J. Crutchfield died on 12/23/06.

No comments: