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Army Spc. Justin W. Hebert

Died August 1, 2003 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

20, of Arlington, Wash.; assigned to the 319th Field Artillery, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Camp Ederle, Italy; killed when his vehicle was struck by a rocket propelled grenade Aug. 1 in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Hundreds gather to mourn slain soldier

Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Wash. — 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 Sgt. 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 Spc. 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.

He was the 250th American to die in Iraq, the 114th since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major hostilities.

Army Spc. 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.”

Snohomish County soldier dies in Iraq

SILVANA, Wash. — Justin Hebert’s parents signed the paperwork enlisting him in the Army because he was only 17 and couldn’t join on his own.

Now, nearly three years later, they are mourning his death.

Hebert, a 20-year-old paratrooper with the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, was reportedly killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a convoy Friday. Three other soldiers were wounded.

The latest death reported by the U.S. military matched that description, but the soldier’s identity had not been released as of Sunday.

A Department of Defense spokesman reached at the Pentagon said no updates on casualties would be announced until Monday.

The soldier’s father, Bill Hebert, said the news came with a knock on the door from two soldiers.

“We hate to give you the bad news,” he recalled hearing them say, “but your son has been killed in action.”

He was the first soldier from Snohomish County to die in Iraq, The Herald of Everett reported Sunday.

Chad Winterhalter, 20, had known Hebert since the fifth grade and played football with him. He said Hebert had a knack for making people laugh.

“There was nobody like him,” Winterhalter told The Herald. “We had our childhood fights, but I could never stay mad at him, and when I’d run into him everything was fine. And when he grew up and wanted to go into the Army, I encouraged him to go for his goals.”

Winterhalter’s uncle, Mark Winterhalter, a local fire district commissioner, remembered Hebert as a hard-working young man who used to help him haul hay after school.

“I was hoping he had already come home,” the elder Winterhalter said. “It’s an unfortunate thing to end up losing his life over there, and it seems we’ve lost a lot of lives since the war’s been over.”

Hebert was the 52nd soldier to die in combat in Iraq since President Bush declared major fighting over on May 1, The Herald reported.

So far, 167 soldiers have died in the Iraq war, 20 more than during the 1991 Gulf War.

Robin Hebert said her son joined the Army to get an education and see the world. He and a buddy, Brett Rickard, enlisted just after they graduated from Arlington High School in June 2001.

Hebert never told his parents he was taking the tests to qualify for the Army. He came home when he was ready to join and asked his parents to sign off on it because he was 17 and needed their signatures.

His flight to basic training was the first time he was ever in an airplane.

“We’re worried, very worried and scared — but very proud of him,” Robin Hebert said in a March interview with The Herald.

He was stationed in Italy at the time, but told his mother he would be leaving soon for Iraq.

“He said he was going to the bad land, and I figured it would be Iraq,” she said. “I knew he was going to be in it.”

After the regular phone calls ceased, Robin Hebert remained anxious for any news involving her son. “I’ve been waking up to CNN and going to bed with CNN,” she said in March.

Since Rickard and Hebert enlisted, yellow ribbons have hung from the trees on Silvana’s main drag. And in the front window of Willow and Jim’s Country Cafe is a poster with the photos of the two young soldiers.

Rickard, a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, served in Afghanistan fighting Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts in mountainous Hemand Province.

— Associated Press

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