ARLINGTON, WA, USA U.S. Marines SPC, BATTERY D 319TH FIELD ARTILLERY, 173D AIRBORNE BRIGADE, APO AE 09630 KIRKUK, IRAQ 08/01/2003
Years ago, Justin Hebert played basketball and took physical education classes in the wood-floored gymnasium at Post Middle School. More than 200 people filed into that same gymnasium on Aug. 16 to honor him, two weeks after a rocket-propelled grenade took his life near Kirkuk, Iraq.
“You are a brother unlike any other,” said his sister, Jessica, sobbing. “Nobody else could compete.”
Family members and friends, high school buddies and fellow soldiers attended the service. Afterward, he was buried beside a small white church on a hillside overlooking a dairy farm in nearby Silvana, the tiny town where he grew up.
“I am proud to be the one who brought Justin home,” said Sergeant Nicholas Lewis, who helped return Hebert’s body. “In doing so I have fulfilled a promise to him and helped ease my own pain.
“I ask God to protect him, to keep his music loud and his steaks well-done.”
Army Specialist Hebert, barely 20 years old and a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was on a nighttime patrol when the grenade struck his vehicle, killing him and wounding three others.
Army Specialist Bret Rickard was one of Hebert’s best friends growing up in Silvana. The two met at Post Middle School in the seventh grade, then both enlisted immediately after graduating from Arlington High School. Hebert’s parents had to sign the paperwork for him because he was only 17, too young to sign it himself.
“I was thinking about joining the Army because of the college money – they were going to give me $50,000 for college,” Rickard said after the funeral. “He also didn’t have the money but wanted to go to college, so we both signed up.
“He was really proud of what he did. It was something he was good at.”
Rickard, with a maroon beret and forest green uniform, said he tried not to cry during the memorial, but “then they showed the movie and you see the pictures of the day-to-day life with your best friend and he’s not here anymore, and I just cried.”
The Army presented Hebert’s family with his posthumous Purple Heart and Bronze Star, as well as the American flag that draped his casket.
His death reverberated through Silvana. Willow & Jim’s, the town’s only restaurant, took up a collection for the family, and co-owner Willow Payne gave the Heberts a copy of a plaque bearing Justin’s likeness. The plaque will be placed next to the restaurant’s flagpole.
Silvana residents and rodeo enthusiasts Kory and Rachel Johnson held a bull-riding benefit for the family at their ranch. Bill Hebert, Justin’s father, directed that the proceeds instead be given to 2-year-old Jessica Fisher, a Tacoma girl receiving a bone marrow transplant from her older brother at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.
“In a small town like this you get to know pretty much everybody in the community,” Kory Johnson said. “Something like this is real hard. Everybody just tries to pull together to support the family.”