Explosion kills Danville native in Iraq
BY BARBARA GREENBERG
DANVILLE— Justin Penrod, a 24-year-old Danville native serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, died Saturday doing what he believed was his duty as an American. He died in an explosion from an improvised explosive device.
Some might think Army Spec. Penrod fulfilled his obligation to his country after his first tour of duty in the war zone, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy this patriot.
Penrod enlisted in the full-time Army a year after he completed the first tour, which he served with the Illinois Army National Guard.
“Justin loved what he did,” Christina, his 24-year-old widow, said during a telephone interview Monday from Fort Stewart, Ga. “Once he came back from Iraq, he knew he wanted to go back there again.”
After a year of civilian life, Penrod joined the full-time Army. During that brief year, he made a different kind of contribution by working as a drill instructor for Lincoln’s Challenge.
Diane Penrod, Justin’s stepmother, recalled Justin’s decision to go to the military school instead of continuing at Danville High School.
“The classroom wasn’t a good fit for him,” she said. “But Lincoln’s Challenge was tough for him at first. I encouraged him to stick it out. I told him he’d be a better person for making it through the program, and he was. Out of his class of 40, he was one of two who graduated from there with a diploma.
“After Justin finished his National Guard service, he got a job with Lincoln’s Challenge. He understood what the kids were going through. He made it, and it made him stronger.
“He believed in giving back. He didn’t just say that — he lived it.
“That boy was something else,” she said.
Tina Tuttle, Justin’s mother, said she’s always been proud of her youngest child. “I’m proud of all my kids, Jimmy and Listia, as well as Justin. I’m proud of them for who they are, not just for what they’ve done. The glory is to God for giving me these children.”
Listia Lyons, Justin’s sister, described her younger brother as “a loving person and my best friend. I talked to him just before he went to Iraq this last time. I started crying, and he said, ‘I’ve done this before. I can do it again.’
“I know he’s in a better place. He doesn’t have to worry now,” she said.
Christina and the couple’s 8-month-old son Colin joined Justin in early June at Fort Stewart. The couple felt blessed to have their son, born three months premature.
“Colin’s birth was a great ordeal for us,” she said. “It’s where I’m getting my strength now. That and from my folks, who surprised me by coming here Saturday. That was an incredible coincidence.”
She described her husband as a proud husband and father.
“He was full of life,” she said. “He made anybody he met smile.”
But Justin took his military duty seriously.
“He was part of a task force that cleared out houses. He was doing dangerous work. All he could say about it when I asked him was, “I make sure that things are safe,’” his wife said.
Plans for Penrod’s funeral are still tentative, according to his wife. A visitation in Champaign and a funeral service followed by burial at Danville’s National Cemetery are being considered.
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