REDMOND, WA, USA U.S. Army SGT, COMPANY A, 145TH COMBAT SUPPORT BATTALION, POST FALLS, ID BAGHDAD, IRAQ 01/14/2007
Missoulians lined the streets Tuesday for a young soldier almost none of them could possibly have known. They stopped what they were doing – driving their cars, working at their jobs, going to class – to stand alongside the road as the white hearse bearing U.S. Army Sergeant James D. Riekena rolled by.
Riekena, who was born in Missoula but moved to Redmond, Wash., as a boy, was killed in Iraq on Jan. 14 when a bomb exploded near his Humvee. He was 22.
For a moment, two men got up out of a 39th Street ditch where they were working on a culvert to stand and salute the young sergeant, who earned his promotion by giving up his life. The men wore muddied coveralls and had tears in their eyes. For a moment, young men walked away from their jobs at the Magic Touch Car Wash to stand along Reserve Street in their rubberized yellow pants. The women left their jobs as tellers at Sterling Savings Bank to stand waving American flags. For a moment, they came out of the Verizon store, from the mortgage business, from Western Montana Lighting, from Windermere Real Estate.
Wearing short pants, the driver of the Coca-Cola truck stopped and stood by the road. With the lights of their engines rotating and red, the fire crews stood stock still as the procession rolled by. Near Reserve and Mullan Road, a fire engine hoisted a flag from its ladder.
For a moment, a homeless man stopped the conversation he carried on with himself, wiped his nose on his tattered backpack and stood silently, his left hand around the small flag pinned to his gray coat.
The children of C.S. Porter Middle School lined the fence along Reserve Street. Some stood fidgeting with their hands over their hearts; others waved small ribbons of red, white and blue. And the cars rolled by.
They came to a stop at the Sunset Memorial Gardens Cemetery on Mullan Road, where the American flag was taken from the casket and the young man called J.D. was laid to rest in his hometown.
He was a good son, a good brother, a good soldier. An Eagle Scout, he wanted to be a teacher, perhaps of English. He’d had some tough times in school, so teaching would be a way to help other students through those same struggles.
The family, friends and assorted members of the military and law enforcement gathered at the church at noon Tuesday to pay their respects. They listened as a host of commendations from the U.S. military were bestowed upon the young combat engineer – the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal.
He will forever be remembered for his actions, said presenter James West, who read from a letter from Francis J. Harvey, secretary of the Army. For his family, the memories were already there – his kindness, his love of nature and the outdoors, his insistence on family first. He was the boy who once brought his uncle the Marine to show-and-tell in kindergarten, and who later showed off his little brother. He was the boy who became a man and went off to Iraq for his first tour of duty with the Idaho National Guard. When he returned a year later, he called to say he’d be hours late coming home, then, rather mischievously, knocked on the door of the family house just moments later.
J.D. Riekena had been gone from Missoula for nearly 13 years at the time of his death. His little boy face had grown into the face of a man. Maybe hardly anyone here would have recognized him had he shown up in town. But on Tuesday, Missoula recognized him for something more important – for his sense of duty and his sacrifice. For a moment, a mother stopped her car, got her two children out of the back seat and stood them by the side of the road. When the hearse rolled by, the little boys saluted the soldier they’d never seen.