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- The People Behind The Sacrifice
Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher W. Phelps
Died June 23, 2005 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
39, of Louisville, Ky.; assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colo.; killed June 23 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee in Baghdad.
Louisville soldier killed in Iraq
By Bruce Schreiner
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An Army sergeant killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq was remembered Sunday as a gifted athlete and natural leader at his Louisville high school.
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher W. Phelps, 39, died last Thursday in Baghdad after an improvised explosive device detonated near his military vehicle, the Pentagon said.
The Gulf War veteran, who spent 19 years in the military, was a member of the Army’s 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo.
Back in his hometown, Phelps was remembered as an all-around athlete at Male High School. He played quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back on the football team, was a point guard in basketball and ran track.
“God, what a tragedy,” his high school football coach, Wally Oyler, said Sunday when learning of his former player’s death.
Phelps, a 1984 Male graduate, helped lead the Bulldogs to the state playoffs, ending a long post-season drought for the school, Oyler said. Phelps earned second-team All-State honors his senior year and played in the Kentucky-Tennessee all-star game.
“He’d work his tail off all the time and he’d always have a smile,” Oyler said. “No matter what you asked him to do, he would jump in and do it. He was just a wonderful kid.”
Kevin Wigginton got to know Phelps when they were seventh graders, and the two became close friends and teammates at Male and later in college. “We had a lot of good memories,” Wigginton said Sunday. “He was a great leader on the football field.”
The two later played football together at Kentucky State University and then at a junior college in Mississippi, Wigginton said. They parted after that — Phelps joined the military and Wigginton concluded his college career at West Virginia State.
Phelps didn’t tell Wigginton of his decision to join the Army until the day he left. “He didn’t want to tell me because he knew I would try to talk him out of it,” Wigginton said.
They last saw each other about a year ago, just before Phelps left Fort Knox — where he had been stationed for a few years — for his next assignment in Colorado.
Phelps told his friend he expected to be sent to Iraq.
“I’m not going to say he was looking forward to going, but he knew that was part of his duty to his country, so he was prepared to do that,” Wigginton said.
Kenny Phelps said his brother enjoyed the Army, and it was through the military that he met his wife, Bobbie. Christopher Phelps left for Iraq in early April and was scheduled to get out of the military next March.
“I don’t think he really wanted to go,” Kenny Phelps said.
Kenny Phelps said his brother had three children and a stepdaughter, ages 9 to 23, as well as five sisters and two brothers. His parents are deceased.
Christopher Phelps drove a tank in the Gulf War.
After his arrival in Iraq this past spring, he wrote to one of his sisters about his newest assignment in the Middle East, Kenny Phelps said.
In those letters, he wrote he “just couldn’t believe some of the things that he was seeing and that was going on,” but he didn’t elaborate, Kenny Phelps said.
In the explosion last week, Phelps lost both legs and one arm, his brother said. He underwent surgery and was to return to the operating room as doctors tried to stabilize him so he could be transported to a hospital in Germany, but he didn’t survive, Kenny Phelps said.
Phelps was the 24th service member to die in Iraq with a Kentucky city listed as a hometown of record by the military.
Ted Boehm, the principal at Male High when Phelps was a student, remembered him as “somebody you liked to be around. He was a leader.”
Boehm noted that Phelps’ quote in his senior yearbook proved tragically prophetic. The quote read: “Do all you can while you can before it’s too late.”
“It fit right in with his life — when you live your life for your country,” Boehm said.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — David Johnson remembered one specific thing about his high school classmate, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher W. Phelps.
“Chris lived with a smile on his face, so let’s honor him with smiles on our faces,” Johnson told a crowd of about 200 at a Saturday memorial service for Phelps.
Phelps, 39, died June 23 in Baghdad after an improvised explosive device went off near his military vehicle. Phelps, a member of the Army’s 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., was honored at a memorial service at his alma mater, Male High School in Louisville.
The 19-year military veteran was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and three other citations for his service in Iraq. Phelps was the 24th service member to die in Iraq with a Kentucky city listed as a hometown of record by the military.
Phelps, a 1984 Male graduate, helped lead the Bulldogs to the state playoffs, ending a long postseason drought for the school. Phelps earned second-team All-State honors his senior year and played in the Kentucky-Tennessee all-star game.
After playing football at a junior college in Mississippi, Phelps joined the military, a career he willingly chose, said his sister, Pam Ellis, one of Phelps’ five sisters and two brothers.
“He loved the military,” Ellis said. “He was just there doing what he had to do.”
High school classmates, including former University of Kentucky basketball player Winston Bennett and Johnson, an ex-Kentucky football player, remembered Phelps as a star athlete with an ever-present smile on his face.
“He was just high on life,” said Winston Bennett, a classmate at Male who went on to play basketball at Kentucky.
The ceremony drew Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson as well as Rep. Anne Northup, R-Ky., former Male High football coach Wally Oyler and Ted Boehm, the principal at Male High when Phelps was a student.
Maj. James Sears, one of Phelps’ classmates at Male who is also now in the Army, said Phelps would be remembered as “an American hero.”
“Chris will always be remembered as a husband, a father a son, brother, Male High Bulldog and most of all a soldier,” Sears said.
— Associated Press