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With full honors

Staff Sgt. Stephen A. Seale laid to rest

Staff Sgt. Stephen A. Seale laid to rest

August 19, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - "I try not to cry. I know you don't like it when I cry. I try daddy, but it hurts ... Maybe someday, I can visit you in heaven, OK ..."

The soft-spoken words of the young girl in the Sept. 11 tribute remix of "Heaven" culminated a tearful memorial service Friday afternoon for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stephen A. Seale.

Sept. 11 was Seale's birthday, and the words easily could have been spoken by his 3-year-old daughter, Isabel, who lost her father Aug. 6 in Baghdad.

A bomb exploded outside the Humvee in which Seale and two other soldiers were riding. All three were killed. Seale was 25. He and other members of the 2nd Brigade Troop Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, were set to return home this fall with the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

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"I'd be remiss if I didn't say, we lost three fine soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country," Seale's father, John, told the hundreds of people who gathered at Brown Funeral Home's South Berkeley Chapel in Inwood, W.Va.

"You were and always will be my baby boy," said Seale's mother, Roxanne, in a eulogy spoken on her behalf by Jennifer Flynn, chief ranger at Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Historical Park.

His mother recalled her son's camping mischief when food under her tent attracted unwanted guests.

Seale's love of fireworks, remembered by his father, was complemented by stories shared by the Martinsburg native's comrades.

Staff Sgt. Todd Shaw recalled a time when Seale had several C-4 charges placed in a mud puddle to make a larger explosion.

"When it came to doing the job, he was always doing the right thing," said Shaw, who later recalled how his fallen comrade talked about his daughter every day.

"Isabel, your daddy loves you so much, baby," Shaw said.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Riley said Seale was like a "brother" to him.

"He was somebody you could come to anytime you needed him," Riley said. "I miss you Stephen."

Tributes by his parents and comrades came after Major Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker presented his family with the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation with Valor Medal and Combat Action Badge.

Lt. Col. Harry F. Kane recognized Seale's dedication to serving his country and willingness to go the extra mile.

"Steven loved his country," Kane said.

Jim Spears, West Virginia secretary for military affairs and public safety, presented Seale's family with a proclamation from Gov. Joe Manchin and extended his condolences.

"I didn't know Stephen, but I know a lot of soldiers like him," Spears said. "They're what (makes up) the backbone of this country."

Invited to attend the service by Seale's family, nearly 50 members of the Patriot Guard Riders lined the entrance to the chapel holding American flags.

"We feel all of our heroes deserve to be honored and respected," said Rick Gifford, the motorcycle group's West Virginia captain.

The casually dressed group, many wearing blue jeans or camouflage, also was prepared to shield Seale's family and friends from interruptions by protesters. None of the latter made an appearance.

Gifford traveled more than four hours from Vienna, W.Va. to attend the service. Others from Maryland, Virginia and Maryland traveled from even further away, said Gifford, a U.S. Navy veteran.

After the hour-long service, Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputies and Martinsburg police closed every major intersection along W.Va. 51, U.S. 11, W.Va. 45 and W.Va. 9 to make way for the funeral procession. Even traffic on the Interstate 81 entrance and exit ramps was halted as the vehicles slowly traveled past, with emergency lights blinking and headlights on.

Many of the police and reserve officers solemnly stood with hands behind their back as the procession passed. Some stopped motorists opted to pull their vehicles off U.S. 11 altogether.

A smattering of residents along the way paid their respects before the hearse passed a sizable crowd gathered at the square in Martinsburg.

Many held American flags or placed their right hand over their heart. Members of the Martinsburg Fire Department joined them there to salute the fallen soldier. Two of the department's trucks parked end-to-end, blocking West King Street traffic.

Further north on Queen Street, a young man played taps on a saxophone. Restaurant owners along the downtown thoroughfare stood in front of their businesses, some still donning their aprons.

Outside of Martinsburg City Hall and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 896 across the street, a cluster of people waved small American flags.

At the intersection of Jenny Wren Drive and Cemetery Road, a few members of the Bedington Volunteer Fire Department gathered next to their trucks, less than a half-mile from the cemetery.

Once reassembled at 3:21 p.m., bagpiper Chris Jackson began to play as military honor guard members carried Seale from the hearse to a grave site near a large tree.

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