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Remembering those lost

September 9, 2011
Evan Bevins ( , The Marietta Times

The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The war in Iraq started a year-and-a-half later on March 23, 2003.

But it wasn't until July of 2007, when Army 1st Lt. Chris Rutherford was killed in action, that the wars seemed real to Marietta resident Kelly Eddy, 44.

Article Photos

Penny Rutherford at the grave of her son, Army 1st. Lt. Chris Rutherford, in Eastlawn Cemetery.

"It gave a connection that, hey, we are at war and people are dying," said Eddy, who is originally from Dart and knew of the Frontier High School and Marietta College graduate's family, although he was not a personal acquaintance.

Rutherford is one of two Washington County soldiers, and among several more from the region, to die in the wars that began in the wake of the attacks 10 years ago Sunday. When terrorists flew hijacked commercial airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and crashed a fourth in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers fought back, the course of American history was forever altered.

The lives of the families and friends of the soldiers who subsequently gave their lives changed irrevocably as well. And their loss was felt keenly in the communities they called home, even by people who never met them.

Fact Box

Area soldiers killed in action:

Army Staff Sgt. Roger C. Turner, 37, a Meigs County High School graduate, was killed Feb. 1, 2004, in a mortar attack in Balad, Iraq.

Army Spc. Ernie Sutphin, 21, a Parkersburg native, died March 18, 2004, from injuries sustained a week earlier when a homemade land mine exploded beneath his Humvee on a road near Baghdad.

Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua S. Wilfong, 22, of Walker, W.Va., was killed April 30, 2004, in fighting near Fallujah, Iraq.

Army Spc. Allen Nolan, 38, of Marietta died Sept. 30, 2004, from injuries received 12 days earlier when his military vehicle was struck by an explosive device and his convoy was attacked by small-arms fire in Balad, northwest of Baghdad.

Army Staff Sgt. Curtis A. Mitchell, 28, of McConnelsville, died Dec. 12, 2005, when a makeshift bomb exploded near his tank during combat operations in Baghdad.

Army Spc. Joshua D. Jones, 24, of Pomeroy, was killed Aug. 27, 2006, by a sniper in southwest Baghdad.

Army 1st Lt. Chris Rutherford, 25, of Newport, was killed July 2, 2007, by a roadside bomb that detonated near his vehicle outside Balad.

Army Pfc. Kyle Norris, 22, of Zanesville, died May 23, 2008, in Balad, a day after his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, about 30 miles south of Baghdad. He was buried at Rainbow Cemetery outside Lowell.

Army Pfc. David Alan Hess, 25, of Parkersburg, died Oct. 10, 2010, from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his patrol unit in Afghanistan.

Navy Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Nicholas H. Null, 30, of Washington, W.Va., was killed Aug. 6, 2011, when a helicopter he was aboard crashed in Afghanistan.

For information on all the soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, visit The Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen at

"I was just ... devastated for their families," said Devola resident Barbara Lada, 67. "I guess it just surprised me to think that it was somebody who lived so close even though I didn't know them personally."

The Valley has also seen several residents wounded in action, from well-known POW Jessica Lynch of Wirt County, W.Va., to Washington County native Army Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry, who lost both legs and an arm in a July explosion in Afghanistan.

The first deaths

The first soldier from the Valley to die in either of the wars was Army Staff Sgt. Roger Turner, a Meigs County High School graduate who enlisted while living briefly in Parkersburg and was killed in Iraq in February 2004. He was followed in March by Army Spc. Ernie Sutphin, a Parkersburg native, and in April by Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Wilfong of Walker, W.Va.

On Sept. 30 of that year, Army Spc. Allen Nolan, 38, of Marietta, a married father of five, became the first Washington County resident to die in the Iraq war. He was wounded in an attack on a convoy in Balad, northwest of Iraq.

"I was sad; I was hurt; I was distraught," Waterford resident Ernie Malec, 38, said this week, recalling the death of Nolan, his co-worker at Broughton Foods. "Allen Nolan was a kind, wonderful man."

A Navy veteran who served toward the end of the first Gulf War, Malec understood the realities of war but said knowing the person who died is different than hearing statistics on the news. It often frustrates him that soldiers' lives are reduced to numbers or brief mentions in media coverage, he said.

To this day, Malec said he thinks of Nolan when discussing matters of faith, which the two did often at work.

He admired Nolan's dedication to his church, family and job.

"When Allen Nolan did something, he did it 100 percent," Malec said. "All of us would like to think we're that way but we're not."

Nolan was also a good soldier, always "watching over his men," said his cousin Randy Nolan, 54, of Marietta.

He'll be remembering Allen Sunday, just like he does the other 364 days of the year.

Randy Nolan keeps a plaque, given to him by an Army officer at Allen's funeral, on a table by his bed.

"I look at it every day," he said.

The most recent area soldier killed in one of the wars was Navy Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Nicholas H. Null, 30, a Parkersburg South High School graduate killed in a helicopter crash that claimed a total of 30 U.S. service members.

Newport resident Herman Thomas, the grandfather of Rutherford, said he watched coverage of Null's death with grim recognition of what his own family went through four years ago.

"The bad part is these (wars) just keep dragging on and you feel for the families yet to come," he said.

A community loss

The return of the fallen soldiers was greeted not just by friends and family but by residents who wanted to honor the sacrifice they made.

More than 600 people attended funeral services for Nolan at Faith Bible Church in Williamstown and more than 150 were on hand for his burial at East Lawn Memorial Park. Volunteers later funded and built an addition onto his family's house.

Rutherford's funeral was held at his alma mater, Frontier High School, with hundreds in attendance. Thousands lined Ohio 7 for the 17-mile drive from the school to East Lawn.

They stood like statues for hours, waiting for the mourners to drive by, holding American flags and saluting. It was a scene repeated in small communities across the nation, as each one lost a hero, or two, or more, to war.

Among those lining Ohio 7 was Marietta resident Heather Berga, now 32, who didn't know Rutherford but felt "it was the right thing to do."

"I may not believe in the war or sometimes why we go to war but I do believe in supporting our soldiers," she said this week.

Berga said she tries to attend benefits for area soldiers who have been wounded or killed whenever she can.

"It helps the families to know ... your community is behind you and we are here and we feel for you," she said.

The reaction from the community to her son's death was "overwhelming," said Rutherford's mother, Penny.

"It was so heartwarming, nothing I would have expected," she said.

Less than a year later, dozens gathered along Ohio 60 as the body of Army Pfc. Kyle Norris was transported to Rainbow Cemetery in Lowell. Norris was a Zanesville resident whose mother, Neva, was born in Marietta, and whose great-grandparents are interred in the same cemetery.

"He told me if anything happened to him he wanted to be buried down there with Grandma and Grandpa," said Norris, 54, who lived in Belle Valley for three years before returning to the Zanesville area.

She never thought she would have to carry out the plan for her young son, she said.

Seeing the people gathered along the route that day brought her to tears, Norris said.

"It took me and my family's breath away to see people that didn't even know Kyle ... stand out and salute him," she said. "It just shows how wonderful people can be."

Lowell resident Brian Wilson, 51, stood along both routes, he said, to honor soldiers who were strangers but who had laid down their lives for his freedom.

"I always have mixed emotions when I hear something like that," he said. "The sorrow that I have because of the loss of life but also the pride I have from being an American."

Remembering today

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks mean something a little different to each of the families of the fallen soldiers.

For Neva Norris, the day is linked to her son joining the military. Fifteen years old when the attacks happened, Kyle Norris decided he wanted to work to defend others. Her heart sank when he later told her he would do that by joining the military, because she knew he would likely be going to war.

"He just said, 'Mom, I have to do something; I have to protect you, make sure you're safe and my family and friends,'" she said.

Sept. 11 may not have been the reason Chris Rutherford joined the military but his mother sees the war in Iraq as an outgrowth of America's response to the attacks.

"They wouldn't have gone to war with Iraq if this hadn't happened," Penny Rutherford said.

She and Thomas, her father, said Chris joined the military because of his desire to serve others and better himself.

"Didn't matter where he was, he wanted to be Superman," Thomas laughed.

Malta resident Regina Mitchell lost her son, Army Staff Sgt. Curtis "Tony" Mitchell, in December 2005 when an improvised explosive device went off under his tank - just 36 hours before he was scheduled to leave Iraq.

"I can't change his death," Mitchell said. "I can celebrate his life and remember the good things."



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