|From Topeka Kansas Capital Journal cjonline.com
Afghanistan was next in soldier's service
Guardsman who died in Iraq laid to rest
By Tim Carpenter
Published Friday, August 03, 2007
LEAVENWORTH — Sgt. Courtney Finch enlisted in the Kansas National Guard eager to march in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
In six years, the Leavenworth native served in Kosovo and the Balkans before arriving in Iraq's cauldron of violence during June 2006. Dodging bullets, bombs and mortars for more than a year hadn't drained his enthusiasm for military life.
Dave Finch and his wife, Beth, sit in front of the casket of Dave's son, Kansas National Guard Sgt. Courtney Finch, during Thursday's funeral at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.
"I know he believed in what he was doing," said David Finch, Courtney's father and a Vietnam-era veteran.
Courtney Finch and longtime friend and Kansas National Guard Spc. Tim Carney, both nearing the end of deployments with the 714th security force in Iraq, put in for new assignments in Afghanistan.
And then Finch was gone. Dead. It wasn't precise aim of a sharpshooter or a lucky strike by a rocket. No blast from a roadside bomb abruptly ended Finch's life July 24 at age 27. It was a noncombat fatality, and U.S. investigators are still searching for a cause. It could be a month before anything is official.
"He was my best friend," said Carney, who grew up in Leavenworth and escorted the body back to Kansas. "I'm going to miss him."
Finch was laid to rest Thursday at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. Crisply folded U.S. flags were presented to his parents, Anne Suckow and David Finch. An honor guard fired the traditional 21-gun salute. A bugler poured out "Taps." More than 100 Patriot Guard supporters on beefy motorcycles led the funeral procession into the cemetery and held flags while positioned on both sides of the cemetery road as mourners departed.
This young soldier's fallen brethren on a hillside marked by thousands of white headstones include veterans of the Civil War, Indian wars, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and battles in the Middle East.
"A month from the day he died he was to be back home," David Finch said at a reception at Leavenworth's VFW hall. "Some people get scared. It's called short-timer's disease. He wasn't scared."
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state's adjutant general and head of the Kansas Guard, joined dozens of service members and family members at the cemetery. Both spoke of the loss of Finch and the death of Kansas National Guard Staff Sgt. Travis Bachman, 30, of Garden City. He was killed Wednesday in Iraq by an improvised explosive device.
Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed the lives of nine Kansas Guard members since April 2003. Seven more Kansans have been killed. Nearly 120 soldiers stationed at Fort Riley have perished.
"That's a lot of soldiers to lose," the governor said. "Kansas appreciates their service."
Bunting said he recalls seeing Finch while visiting Kansas Guard troops in Kosovo and Iraq.
"I knew his face and his smile," he said. "He's one of those soldiers who loved to serve."
Finch's immediate family eulogized the sergeant at the graveside service.
His mother, Anne Suckow, had a statement read in which she recalled the day her son came into the world.
"As daylight crept through my window today, I was thinking of you, remembering the day you were born as one of the happiest days of my life. I remember counting your tiny fingers and toes and cradling you in my arms," Suckow said.
Joy Jursch, a sister, said the loss dug a trench in her heart.
"If one more person asks me if I'm OK, I may kick them," she said. "I just want to scream and tell them, 'No, I'm not OK. I lost a little bit of myself.' "
"You do not stay a child for long in the war," said Finch's other sister, Suanne Gardner. "Other's pain makes you look outside yourself, and that makes you grow up. Courtney died doing what he believed in, among brothers in arms. He was my unsung hero, and his memory will live on."
David Finch said another son, Spencer, died at 6 months of age.
"It's hard to bury your children," he said.
Members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church protested at the entrance to the Fort Leavenworth installation, which attracted a counterprotest on an adjacent street corner.
Becky Looney, who has a brother, Nick, serving in Iraq, said she sang patriotic songs to drown out chanting by the Westboro church members.
"It's really sad soldiers are defending our freedom and they're over there standing on a flag," Looney said.
Lt. Col. Richard Quinn, chaplain at Fort Leavenworth, closed the funeral service by urging those in attendance to make the best use of time granted them by God.
"Death can come very unexpectedly," Quinn said. "The only thing I find that leaves a legacy behind are the lives that we touch. What are you doing with the time you've got?"