|From The Oregonian oregonlive.com
Soldier tells mourners goodbye
Funeral - Capt. Drew Jensen, who decided to end his life after being paralyzed in Iraq, says in a recording, "I will miss all of you"
Friday, September 21, 2007
The Oregonian Staff
DAMASCUS -- Before eight pallbearers carried a flag-draped coffin from a Damascus church Thursday, the voice of Army Capt. Drew Nicholas Jensen addressed hundreds of mourners gathered to celebrate his life.
"Family, friends and acquaintances, thank you for your support," the audio recording began, the faint rasp of a ventilator audible in the background. "Understand that I will miss all of you and, to those who don't fully understand, I apologize."
Jensen, a 27-year-old Damascus native, died Sept. 7 from combat wounds after he chose to be removed from life support at the Puget Sound Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Seattle. During his second tour of duty in Iraq in May, a sniper's bullet struck Jensen, paralyzing him from the neck down.
In his message, Jensen said his decision was made carefully, after long conversations with family, and that he hoped people would react without bitterness toward the Army or the Iraq war.
"The Army was the profession I chose, that gave me more than I could have ever asked for," he said. To those who served beside him in Iraq -- a squad he called "my misfits" -- Jensen said, "Even death cannot break the bonds that we had and the times that we have shared."
Jensen was the 48th member of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Lewis, Wash., and the 112th soldier with strong ties to Oregon or southwest Washington to die in the current conflicts in the Mideast.
Jensen graduated from Gresham's Sam Barlow High School in 1998 and from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2002. In May 2006, between his two tours of duty as a platoon leader, he married Stacia Marie Melton in Tacoma.
On Thursday, more than 300 people gathered at Christ the Vine Lutheran Church, filling the pews and spilling out into the lobby. Soldiers from Jensen's Army brigade and his West Point classmates stood in crisp uniforms. Flag-bearers from the Patriot Guard Riders, clad in leather and denim, lined the path to the door, and a delegation of Boring Fire and Rescue firefighters flanked engine 149 out of Damascus.
Mourners wept and sometimes laughed as Jensen's friends stood to share memories, from a harrowing close call with a roadside bomb to his endearing habit of singing along with country songs, replacing each "you" with "Drew."
They recalled Jensen's first words after the shot that paralyzed him, uttered when doctors installed a valve that allowed him to speak: "Thank you all for helping me."
And they read a message from Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who called Jensen "a burning light of intelligence, courage, loyalty and grace" and ordered flags flown at half-staff Thursday in Jensen's honor.
Ryan Frashour, who knew Jensen for two decades, remembered their childhood together. He reminisced about soccer matches, a watermelon-eating contest, and the impromptu boxing matches they fought sharing one set of gloves.
"Drew always took the left glove. I think he liked the extra challenge," Frashour said. "I can tell you firsthand as a friend, there was none better than Drew."
The Rev. Erwin Wichner described Drew as a leader devoted to his fellow soldiers and to making the most of his 27 years.
"Drew had a way of enjoying life, and that comes all the way through, from school activities to the battlefields of Baqouba," Wichner said. "He took great pride in the fact that he served our nation with distinction and honor. . . . Whatever he did, it was done well, and it was done with a sense of excitement."
After the church service, a caravan of limousines wound slowly from Damascus to the Willamette National Cemetery, where Jensen was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
As gunshots fired in tribute and strains of taps hung on the air, Jensen's wife tightened her lips and looked down.
Members of the crowd lingered long after the ceremony and lined up to hug members of Jensen's family.
One by one, as she embraced each of them, Stacia Jensen uttered the same response.
Peter Zuckerman of The Oregonian contributed to this report. Jessica Bruder: