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Fallen W.Va. soldier 'loved life... loved this nation'

August 11, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

INWOOD, W.VA. - Sgt. Bobby Beasley was the kind of man who not only enjoyed fly fishing, but who made his own flies and rods.

Beasley, of Inwood, was the kind of man who loved his job as a Virginia Army National Guard member and accepted without question orders to head overseas.

On Saturday, Beasley, 36, and another soldier died when their Humvee hit an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He was the first soldier from the Eastern Panhandle to die overseas in Operation Enduring Freedom.

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On Tuesday evening, one of Beasley's brothers, John Beasley, of Winchester, Va., talked about his brother and of the last conversation they had in person before Bobby Beasley left for Afghanistan on July 15.

Bobby grew up as the son of a sharecropper in Newton Grove, N.C. His father, Leon Beasley, 82, still works seven days a week on a turkey farm, John Beasley said.

When he was 10, Bobby's mother, a nurse in charge of the local hospital's newborns, died in a car accident.

Two years later, one of Bobby's older brothers died of a massive heart attack.

"Bobby had a rough life," John Beasley said, adding that he could have turned to drugs or become involved in criminal activity.

"Through the grace of God ... family support from his inner family, me, his brother, his father, aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews, Bobby turned out to be who you're writing about today."

In 1986, Bobby moved in with his brother in Winchester and graduated in 1988 from James Wood High School. Then he joined the U.S. Navy, and served for four years.

During Desert Storm, Bobby served aboard the USS Puget Sound. After his discharge, he joined the Naval Reserve, John Beasley said.

Because his brother had a long drive to Norfolk, Va., on drill weekends, John Beasley suggested he consider joining the Virginia Army National Guard. Officials with the Naval Reserve helped with the transfer and Bobby began driving vehicles for the National Guard in about 1993. He moved to Inwood four years ago, his brother said.

"Bobby loved helping people," his brother said. "Bobby loved life. Bobby loved this nation. Bobby loved his job with the National Guard."

He liked to camp, hunt and fish. A photograph he took of a mother deer and a fawn was published in an outdoor magazine, his brother said.

He was a fun-loving man.

"He could make you laugh when everything around you was falling apart," John Beasley said. "He always had the attitude, 'It's not that bad.'"

John Beasley said that his brother was not afraid to go overseas.

They last talked in person on Memorial Day weekend, discussing "things that brothers talk about."

Bobby warned that after he arrived overseas a month might pass before he could contact his brother again. He'd been overseas for a little more than three weeks when he died.

John Beasley had just finished working outside Saturday when his phone rang at about 5:30 p.m.

It was the mother of Bobby's wife, Juanita, who broke the news.

"The first thing you feel is shock. You're numb. The second thing is dismay. 'This can't be.' And then the hard part is the waiting. Waiting for the military to finish their process and release the body to the family so we can start our healing process," John Beasley said.

Army spokesperson Martha Rudd said that Beasley was promoted to sergeant posthumously. He was an E4 - a specialist - before his death but was promoted to E5 - sergeant - after he died, Rudd said.

Rudd said she did not have information concerning the promotion or what caused it.

"We don't give many of them but they do occur," she said. Often a soldier's heroic actions just before his death lead to such promotions, she said.

Rudd said Bobby Beasley died at 6:25 a.m. in Ghazikhel, Afghanistan.

Outside of the military, Beasley worked for Kraft General Foods in Winchester for more than 10 years, said Human Resources Manager Gerald Bumpers. Beasley operated a blow mold machine that makes bottles for Kool-Aid Bursts drinks.

Plant officials were notified of Beasley's death Sunday.

"A lot of people were shocked and sad," Bumpers said. "He was an upstanding employee" who had many friends among the 600 employees at the plant.

In recognition of Beasley's death, a moment of silence was observed at the plant and photographs and other mementos connected to Beasley were put together for a display in the plant's lobby, Bumpers said.

A memorial service is planned for Thursday in Clinton, N.C. On Saturday and Sunday, Beasley's body will be at Rosedale Funeral Home in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Monday.

Along with Beasley, Staff Sgt. Craig W. Cherry, 39, of Winchester, and an Afghan interpreter were killed. First Lt. Heath C. Phillips from Elkton, Va., was injured.

The soldiers were with the Virginia Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, in Winchester.

The soldiers entered active federal service on March 1. They arrived in Afghanistan on July 15 and were operating in Ghazni Province, about 100 miles south of Kabul.

The first thing a visitor needs to know, John Beasley said, is that he will not answer questions about politics.

Beasley may not be willing to answer such questions, but a hat he has on reads: "Proud to be an American."

"This country's had a lot of people die just so we can have this conversation," he said. "It's still the greatest nation in the world for anyone to live in."

Bobby Beasley believed it would all be worth it if one woman was no longer abused. If the torture stopped. If nobody else died, he said. He said his brother was not ashamed to voice his feelings and stand up for what he felt was right.

"It doesn't matter where you live, who you are, what race or nationality you are, this is our country. Bobby believed in freedom," John Beasley said.

Bobby is a fallen hero, he said.

"You can't go no further in life than to give your life for something (you believe in)," Beasley said. "To die for your nation is the greatest sacrifice anyone can do."

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