MESA, AZ, USA U.S. Army PFC, COMPANY D, 3D BATTALION, 69TH ARMOR, FORT STEWART, GA RAMADI, IRAQ 02/18/2007
Thursday was supposed to be Kelly Youngblood’s 22nd birthday. Instead, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Army Private First Class Youngblood, of Mesa, Ariz., was killed by sniper fire Feb. 18, 2007, near Ramadi, a central Iraqi city about 60 miles west of Baghdad. He was shot after stepping out of his vehicle. He died a little more than two weeks into his deployment and during one of the deadliest periods in the Iraq War, which began in 2003.
Dozens of mourners accompanied a small box containing Youngblood’s remains to Arlington. The service was brief but emotional, punctuated with a folded flag given to his mother, Kristen Chacon, as loved ones snapped digital photos and filmed the moment.
His family and friends wiped their eyes and held tissues to their faces while completing Youngblood’s journey from Arizona to Iraq and, finally, to Arlington. He became the 461st casualty of the Iraq war buried in the cemetery.
Among others offering condolences to the family were Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, a regular presence at these burials, and Deborah Mullen, wife of Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Kelly David Youngblood was born July 2, 1987, in northern Indiana near South Bend and moved to Arizona at 9. After attending high school in Tempe, he worked as a sandwich maker in a restaurant and entered the Army in January 2006 to fulfill what many family members said was his life’s dream of military service.
He did not tell his parents of his plan. “I’ll do what I gotta do, and I’ll be home,” he reportedly told his mother. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga.
His grandmother, Jean Herrold, told a South Bend newspaper that she tried to persuade Youngblood not to enlist but that he would not listen. She added that her grandson began to show his fear a few days after his arrival in Iraq, when soldiers from his compound were killed by mortar rockets.
“There are no phones where I’m at so I can’t call, and no Internet, so I can’t write,” Youngblood reportedly typed to his younger sister, Melaney, days before his death. “I’m afraid to leave the building to [go to] the tank because there are snipers everywhere.”
At the same time, he kept up a prankish streak that had been his habit from his youngest years. His mother told the Arizona Republic: “Kelly would hide somewhere where his fellow soldiers could not see him and then jump out and blow a horn to scare them.”
Family and friends have posted hundreds of comments on his MySpace page in the months and years since his death. On Thursday, the day he was buried, multiple posts on his page appeared wishing him a happy birthday.