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Army Spc. James D. Riekena

Died January 14, 2007 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

22, of Redmond, Wash.; assigned to the 145th Brigade Support Battalion, Idaho National Guard, Post Falls, Idaho; died Jan. 14 in Baghdad of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

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Funeral to be held Jan. 14 in Missoula for soldier killed in Iraq

The Associated Press

MISSOULA, Mont. — The funeral for fallen Idaho National Guard soldier James D. Riekena will be held Tuesday in Missoula.

Riekena, 22, died Jan. 14 in Baghdad when a bomb exploded near his Humvee.

Riekena grew up in Missoula and moved to Redmond, Wash., with his family in 1993. He recently lived in Post Falls, Idaho, where he enlisted in the National Guard.

He still has relatives in Missoula.

Riekena’s funeral is set for noon Tuesday at the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. Burial will follow at Sunset Memorial Cemetery, with a reception afterward at the church.

His relatives describe Riekena as a young man who had reservations about the war but thought helping Iraqis overcome their hardships was a noble cause.

They said he was a lover of literature and had plans to go to college to become an English teacher. Riekena often wrote to his grandmother, Sharon Riekena, who lives in Missoula, about life in Iraq, because she had lived in that country for several years as a teenager.

He’d recently written by e-mail to tell his family that he was keeping fit by running every day, but said he looked forward to seeing them all soon.

Riekena was on his second tour in Iraq at the time of his death. He was a month away from his 23rd birthday.

Riekena was a combat engineer in the guard’s 145th Brigade Support Battalion based in Post Falls, Idaho. He had volunteered for a second assignment in Iraq during the fall after his engineering company spent 16 months there with the Idaho National Guard’s 116th Brigade Combat Team. He specialized in finding and disarming bombs.

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Idaho National Guardsman dies in Iraq

The Associated Press

REDMOND, Wash. — When Pat McCune last spoke with her son, Army Spc. James D. Riekena, an Idaho National Guardsman in Iraq, food was on his mind.

“He wanted to know if I’d sent the cookies,” McCune, a school bus driver for the Lake Washington School District, recalled Tuesday.

Classes were canceled the next day, Jan. 10, because of snow and ice, “so I got busy and baked and mailed a bunch of cookies,” McCune said, “which he will obviously never get. I hope that when the guys in unit get the package and see it is from me, they will open and enjoy them.”

Riekena, 22, a specialist in the guard’s 145th Brigade Support Battalion based in Post Falls, Idaho, died Sunday of injuries from a roadside bombing near his Humvee in Baghdad, the Defense Department confirmed Tuesday.

He had volunteered for a second assignment in Iraq during the fall after his engineering company spent 16 months there with the Idaho National Guard’s 116th Brigade Combat Team.

Born in Missoula, Mont., he moved with his parents to the Seattle area in 1993. Nine years later, after his graduation from Redmond High School, he went to Idaho to work, joined the National Guard and became a combat engineer, then returned to Redmond before being sent to Iraq in 2004.

He specialized in finding and disarming bombs.

“When he told us what he wanted to do, he said, ‘This is what fascinates me,’” McCune recalled. “I said, ‘Can’t you pick something safe like being a cook?’”

Relatives and friends said he also enjoyed literature and writing and hoped to go to college and become an English teacher.

During his first tour in Iraq, he wrote to his grandparents in Missoula:

“It’s such an odd place. My heart aches at the sight of how they live, though from it, as all things in life, I continue to learn. Respect and appreciation for all that I have. To really cherish the smallest of things I never did before. Another lesson is that again of hope — to keep hope for a people and place where it seems all hope is lost.”

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Missoula residents salute fallen soldier

By Michael Moore

The Associated Press

MISSOULA, Mont. — 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 Army Sgt. 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.

“His family is so very proud of his accomplishments and his character,” family friend Gerry Weiler said at the funeral held at Mission Alliance Church.

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 Riekena’s 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, a 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.

And he was the man who went back for a second tour in Iraq when he didn’t have to, the man known by his fellow soldiers for his “infectious enthusiasm.”

In Iraq, he’d identified and disarmed more than 30 improvised explosive devices before being killed by one no one recognized.

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.

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