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Family deals with death of area soldier

December 03, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - U.S. Army Spc. Erik Hayes could barely wait to come home to Maryland.

He was looking forward to using money he earned in the Army for his college education, and spending time with his injured brother, relatives said.

Hayes, who turned 24 on Nov. 14, was killed Monday when a bomb detonated near his military vehicle in Al Miqdadiyah, Iraq, the Department of Defense said Thursday. Hayes was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, Vilseck, Germany.

On Thursday, family members were still trying to come to grips with Hayes' death.

"It's devastating to me, I'll tell you. I don't know what to say," said his father, Douglas Hayes, of Harney, Md. "Erik's supposed to be burying me, not me burying him."

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He said funeral arrangements were being finalized.

Erik Hayes, who had lived in Thurmont, Md., and Cascade prior to his military service, joined the Army on Sept. 6, 2001, Douglas Hayes said. Five days later, the country was rocked by the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Douglas Hayes said his son, a 1998 graduate of the Living Word Academy in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., was someone who believed in doing anything he was involved in the right way and not letting anyone know he was concerned about what faced him.

"He knew the dangers much better than you or I," he said. "Erik wasn't going to ever show you he was worried because the job came first."

Hayes' death was the second major tragedy his family has faced in just more than two years. In Sept. 2002, his brother Bradley Hayes received severe head injuries in a fiery vehicle crash near his home in Emmitsburg, Md., Maryland State Police said.

He remains in a semiconscious state, Douglas Hayes said.

Erik Hayes' aunt, Karen Thurley, of Waynesboro, Pa., said helping and spending time with his brother was what the young soldier was looking most forward to.

"All Erik wanted was to come home and help his brother," she said. "He was only supposed to have four months left. He just wanted to be able to be with Bradley."

Thurley spoke Thursday night on behalf of Hayes' mother, Deborah Reckley, who she said was emotionally exhausted.

"It's her only two boys. She's lost one and the other is in a comatose state," Thurley said. "It's just a sad, sad situation."

Thurley said Hayes joined the military because it made it possible for him to attend college. She said Hayes' career goal was to work for the FBI.

"He was a very intelligent, special young man. ... What a waste," she said.

Thurley said that despite the tragic circumstances of his death, the family is still proud of Hayes' service and the U.S. military. Thurley said Hayes seemed proud when telling stories to his family, while on leave, about some of the positive experiences he had in foreign countries in which he served, including Germany, Bosnia and Kosovo.

"Erik came back saying how much he loved the kids over there. He'd give them candy and T-shirts," Thurley said.

Thurley said the family believes he died a hero, like many others who "spilled their blood for our freedom" in Iraq.

"Freedom isn't free," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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