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Army Staff Sgt. Richard S. Eaton Jr.

Died August 12, 2003 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

Army Staff Sgt. Richard S. Eaton Jr., 37, of Guilford, Conn.; assigned to the 323rd Military Intelligence Battalion, Army Reserve, based at Fort Meade, Md.; died Aug. 12 in Ramadi, Iraq, of heat stress and exertional rhabdomyolysis after a 24-hour firefight in Hit, Iraq, the day before.

Guilford family questions death of son in Iraq

The Associated Press

GUILFORD, Conn. — The parents of an Army counterintelligence analyst who died in Iraq are questioning whether their son’s death was unavoidable.

Staff Sgt. Richard Eaton Jr., a counterintelligence analyst, received several intravenous applications of fluids after a 24-hour firefight in 110-degree weather and was sent back to his barracks the night of Aug. 9.

He was found dead the next morning.

The Army mixed up Eaton’s medical records, and failed to monitor Eaton while he got intravenous fluids, said his father, Richard Eaton.

“It will always leave the question of whether or not it was necessary that he died. On that basis alone, it was not necessary,” the elder Eaton said.

The soldier’s father is a spokesman for the University of New Haven, home to the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science. Lee and a colleague, former New York City medical examiner Michael Baden, have helped the Eaton family review Army records.

The Army’s medical examiner reported that Eaton’s body temperature was 105 degrees. It turned out that another soldier had that temperature, and his records were put in Eaton’s file by mistake, the elder Eaton said.

Because of the mistake, the medical examiner never tested Eaton’s brain stem, and advanced decomposition made it impossible to do blood tests.

Baden will review tissue slides taken from Eaton, but the soldier’s father said it is possible that this review will not resolve whether his son died from the heat or from something else.

The elder Eaton said the Army has been very cooperative in the investigation.

“There are no bad guys here. Things slipped through the cracks, but there was nothing untoward,” he said.

Richard Eaton Jr. was assigned to the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment from Colorado.

Soldier who survived 9/11 strike at Pentagon dies of edema in Iraq, father says

The Associated Press

GUILFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut soldier who died in Iraq this week is being remembered as a natural leader who knew at an early age that he wanted a career in the military.

Army Staff Sgt. Richard S. Eaton Jr., 37, a counterintelligence officer, died in his sleep Aug. 12, his father, Richard S. Eaton, said the following day.

“He loved the military. He loved this country, and this was his life and in many respects, his identity,” the elder Eaton said.

The family has few details about the death, he said, and they do not know whether he died from a strain of pneumonia that has killed other servicemen.

Maj. Bill Adams, the region’s casualty assistance officer, said the cause of death remains under investigation but is thought to be a pulmonary edema.

His death came nearly two years after a hijacked airplane crashed into his office at the Pentagon in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was not working at the Pentagon at the time because his office was being renovated, his father said.

The elder Eaton, a spokesman for the University of New Haven, said his son was working for the Department of Defense as a civilian at the time of the terrorist attacks.

Eaton was in the Army Reserves and deployed to Iraq in March with the Fort Meade, Md.-based 323rd Military Intelligence Battalion, said his mother, Sharon Noble Eaton.

Eaton, who went by the nickname “Rick”, was not married and had no siblings.

“Thirty-seven years with Rick is the glass half-full,” his mother said. “He was one hell of an interesting kid. It was like having 10 kids.”

Eaton grew up listening to stories about family members who served in the armed forces.

A portrait of Civil War Gen. Amos Eaton, with a stern face and bushy beard, hangs over the family fireplace along with his Civil War sword.

Another ancestor was William Eaton, who helped to reinstate the deposed leader of Tripoli and rescue American captives in the early 1800s.

The story of William Eaton is being made into a movie called “Tripoli” and starring Russell Crowe. The elder Eaton said he had looked forward to seeing it with his son.

“I was thinking of writing to the movie people and asking if they would invite my son to the premiere, since he spent his life admiring his ancestor,” the elder Eaton said.

Both of Eaton’s grandfathers were veterans who loved to tell the boy stories of their service. One was in the cavalry in World War I; the other was a pilot in World War II.

From a young age Eaton was a leader among his peers, his parents recalled. A preschool teacher once wrote that the boy was very bright but was inclined to be bossy with his classmates.

At age 6, when the family hired an artist to cut a paper silhouette of the boy, he insisted on wearing a World War II field cap.

Eaton’s teenage friends called him “GI Joe,” his father said.

As a high school student Eaton had his heart set on joining the Army, but took a car trip to more than a dozen college campuses to please his parents and talked about majoring in botany or engineering.

After the trip his father told him he had to make his own decision. The young man went to the local recruiting office and brought a recruiter home to meet his parents.

“He said, ‘He’s old enough to enlist himself at 18, but he really wants your approval,”’ the elder Eaton said. “Then he explained that they could give him the best work that the military had to offer.”

The younger Eaton was offered a place at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., but declined because he believed “real soldiering” was done in the field, his father said.

He spent 10 years in South Korea and had appointments in Honduras, Panama and El Salvador.

Trained to be secretive about the details of his work, the younger Eaton was not someone who talked about his accomplishments, his father said. He never wore his uniform at home and never displayed his awards, the elder Eaton said.

“The person we know and the military person are, in a way, two different people because the requirements of the job were such that people didn’t know what he did,” he said.

Eaton’s mother said he was a history buff who loved to read and played soccer. He coached a children’s soccer team while stationed in Honduras, the family said.

Eaton “epitomized the American tradition of the citizen-soldier,” Gov. John G. Rowland said in a written statement. Rowland ordered all state flags lowered to half-staff through sundown on the day of Eaton’s interment. Funeral arrangements have not been determined.

Guilford First Selectman Carl A. Balestracci, a retired teacher, said he taught American history to the younger Eaton.

The first selectman said Guilford, on the Connecticut coast near New Haven, is “standing by as a community.”

“We will do what the family would like us to do,” Balestracci said. “The VFW and the American Legion are standing by.”

State Sen. William Aniskovich, R-Branford, has known the Eaton family for many years. The elder Eaton held the Senate seat between 1984 and 1986.

“He was a young man who was dedicated to his country,” Aniskovich said. “He was always gung-ho about his participation in the Army and very serious and committed to what he was doing.”

Soldier awarded Bronze Star posthumously

The Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The soldier from Guilford who died in Iraq Aug. 12 will be awarded the Bronze Star for valor.

Staff Sgt. Richard S. Eaton Jr., 37, was found dead in his bed at a base camp in Ramadi, Iraq, and officials are looking into heat stress and dehydration as the cause of death.

Maj. John Whitford, of the Connecticut National Guard, said Aug. 20 the award is rare and is given to someone who serves with valor in combat.

Whitford called it a “high honor” and said it most likely would be presented to the family during or after the funeral service at the First Congregational Church in Guilford.

An autopsy report on Eaton’s death is not expected to be finalized for up to two months. The official cause is pulmonary edema, or water in the lungs.

Guilford soldier who died in Iraq laid to rest

The Associated Press

GUILFORD, Conn. — More than 300 people gathered at the First Congressional Church in Army Staff Sgt. Richard S. Eaton Jr.’s hometown Aug. 23 to remember the career soldier who died in Iraq.

Eaton, 37, died in his sleep of an illness, believed to be a pulmonary embolism. The counterintelligence officer had been deployed to the Middle East since March.

Eaton, who came from a long line of military men, was awarded the Bronze Star for valor in combat. It was presented to Eaton’s parents, Richard S. Eaton and Sharon Noble Eaton, Saturday at Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven.

Eaton was in the Army Reserves and deployed to Iraq with the Fort Meade, Md.-based 323rd Military Intelligence Battalion. Earlier in his career he served in Honduras, South Korea, Panama and El Salvador.

His godparents, Terry and Joan Ferguson, of Bloomington, Ind., said it was no surprise to family and friends that Eaton chose a military career.

“He was an ambitious, caring person,” Terry Ferguson said. “We’re really grateful, America is really grateful for his devotion.”

Eaton was a contractor for the Department of Defense at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. His usual office in the Pentagon was destroyed in the attacks; it was being remodeled at the time and Eaton was working in an office outside the Pentagon.

Maj. Kevin Cavanaugh, a chaplain with the Connecticut National Guard, praised Eaton’s patriotism and service.

“His soldiering was an expression of his citizenship,” he said. “He believed in his country and he believed in freedom.”

About 400 people attended Eaton’s funeral, including state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Rep. Richard Roy of Milford and Lawrence DeNardis, president of the University of New Haven, where the elder Eaton is a spokesman.

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