Dispatches From Iraq

Received via Mike Sloniker 9 May 2003

Subject: America is a Better Place

Between my first and second tours to the Nam, I was assigned escort duty for a young man from Tonkawa Oklahoma, who died in 1969. The whole town turned out when we came to town from the airport with the body. I never forgot that moment. I figured that is what all of America did until I RTB to Ft Sill and found a totally different situation in Okla City. At OKC, the escort officer was told by a family member, his KIA got what he deserved just for going to VN. So, different things stay burned into the memory.

The following is the third different account of our country honoring the fallen of OIF.

All three of the kids returned home were Privates.

Privates. Hell, one of them was from OREGON.

America has turned the corner.

-Mike Sloniker

The following was forwarded to me from upstate NY:

Thought you would find this interesting, SGT Nick Harmatuk, NYSP is a member of the US Army Reserve and a MSG, I believe with the 78th Division. I talked to you about him earlier in the year and then again when he wanted so badly to volunteer for duty in Iraq. I'm doubly proud of their efforts as both a soldier and a former New York State Trooper.

Jack Rucynski, CSM, US Army (Retired)
604 County Route 22
Parish, NY 13131

Subject: Escort Detail

On Thursday, April 17, 2003 you participated in an Escort Detail for GREGORY P. HUXLEY JR who was killed in action in Iraq on April 6, 2003.

On behalf of the entire Huxley family and from me personally "Thank You Very Much". The sincere dedication and emotions that you displayed meant so much to the Huxley family, that words cannot describe their feelings at this time.

What most did not know was that the US Army had promised the family members that they would be taken to Dover Delaware to be present when their son arrived from Iraq and there would be a full military ceremony for GREGORY. Unfortunately, there was a communication problem and they were not present during that ceremony. Then they were informed that the body of their son was being flown to Syracuse and that the funeral director could pick up the "fallen soldier" at the cargo area of the airport and that somebody would help them remove the casket from the cardboard shipping container for transport to Boonville, NY. That was found to be totally unacceptable for a nineteen year old kid that gave his life for this country and for the freedom of so many others. As a family friend, the funeral director contacted me to see if anything could be done. We now had six hours before GREGORY arrived in Syracuse.

Phone calls were made to SP North Syracuse, SGT Nick Harmatiuk took over from here and what you participated in and observed the rest of that day was truly an outstanding display of what this agency can do in very short time. what happened after is just overwhelming.

From SP North Syracuse the procession left, led by eight Syracuse PD motorcycles, followed by the hearse, four cars with family members followed by ten State Police and Syracuse PD cars. How ironic it was that when the procession was traveling parallel to the runway, the plane carrying GREGORY landed next to use. We were able to enter the planes cargo and rid his casket of the shipping crate and drape the American flag over it. When the casket traveled down the conveyor belt, fifteen New York State Troopers and the same amount of Syracuse Policemen lined the path to the awaiting hears. All came to attention and saluted as six State Troopers carried the flag draped coffin towards the hearse.

After a short prayer, the family was given some time to welcome their son home. The entire airport was so quiet, I looked up at the windows of the concourses and saw a hundred people there, all standing, watching, with their hands over there hearts, saluting a young man that they did not know. Somehow they were told, that a fallen soldier had come home and they wanted to share the moment with us. The casket was then placed in the casket and the procession left the airport in the same fashion as we arrived, only this time with a young here that our hearts will never forget.

The motorcade was escorted to the thruway entrance by the Syracuse Police Department's motorcycles, all traffic was stopped for the procession and we headed east towards Boonville. Upon getting off the Thruway, every intersection that the procession encountered we found that it had been blocked by more State Troopers, allowing safe passage with no interruptions. As we traveled through these intersections, every State Trooper, stood at attention, saluting the fallen soldier and his family, honoring GREGORY, giving him and his family the sincere respect, and thankfulness that they deserved. How emotional that was to see and to reflect on now, words cannot describe what that was like.

When entering the Village of Boonville, the main street was decorated with so many American Flags and yellow ribbons. As we approached the center of town, all of the church bells began to chime at once. Hundreds of people were there, lining the street, al holding American Flags and all of them weeping for GREGORY and for what he sacrifice for us and this country. As we drove by the village park, the National Anthem was being played, for GREGORY and I think, for us. At the funeral home, eight veterans lifted the casket out of the hearse and into the home with the family. GREGORY, had arrived back in his home town.

I give you that description of events as not all of you took part in the entire process and I feel that you needed to know. I also think that you need to know what GREGORY'S family said to me, later. The images of the six State Troopers lifting their son, in his flag draped casket off of the airplane, of the State Troopers standing at attention, saluting their son, of the State Troopers standing on the street corners, at attention and saluting, honoring their son, of the State Police escorts from Syracuse to Boonville, these sights, and now their memories will always be etched in their hearts, forever. But the one memory that will always be there first, was of the State Troopers standing at the airport, standing at attention, saluting, with tears running down the troopers cheeks, for their son, a fallen soldier, a hero, that those Troopers never personally knew.

Our jobs take many different avenues in life, we hope that during our day, or shift that we have made a difference, a positive attribute. Well, on Thursday, April 17, 2003, you did just that. You let an entire family know, that you cared,that you were sincere in your caring and the thanks that you displayed for GREGORY and his family. Their words to me about you, told me just that. We made a difference yesterday, and we did in style. The rewards we receive for details like this one you participated in do not come from anywhere but from your heart, take pride in what you accomplished yesterday, because you accomplished so much. I have had so many good things happen since I have been a State Trooper, but in the twenty fours years, I have never been prouder of the New York State Police as I was yesterday.

A fallen soldier, a hero, a son, a brother has finally come home, in grand deserving style, thanks to you.

Sr/Inv Jack Graham