ARLINGTON — “In life, he honored the flag. In death, the flag honored him.”
With those words, a crowd of more than 100 mourners said goodbye to Army Sgt. Kristopher Shepherd on Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Shepherd, 26, lived in Woodbridge the past four years and was killed a week ago in Iraq. He was the victim of an improvised explosive device exploded during clearing operations.
He is the 119th soldier killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington, where his family felt he would feel honored to be laid to rest.
Shepherd’s wife, Ruby, and mother, Sheila Campbell, tightly gripped the arms of the soldiers that led each of them to the gravesite. Two rows of soldiers dressed in green uniforms snapped to attention as they passed.
Flower bouquets at the gravesite shook in the cold wind that swept through the cemetery, lined with row after row after row of identical, white headstones.
Shepherd’s children — 6-year-old Cheyenne and 3-year-old Erik — approached the gravesite hand-in-hand with a uniformed officer. As Cheyenne sat on the green folding chairs, she swung her white-stockinged legs in the air. Erik couldn’t sit still and spent most of the service standing next to his sister, peering over her shoulder, as he listened to the chaplain speak.
“Today we’ve come to lay to rest another patriot who honorably and faithfully served his country,” Chaplain Kenneth Kerr told the crowd of family, friends and service members. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also was at the ceremony.
The chaplain’s words were drowned out at times by multiple planes and helicopters that flew overhead.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” Kerr said, quoting Psalm 23 from the Bible. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The crowd flinched as seven soldiers standing about 50 feet away fired three shots each into the air, the traditional military salute for troops buried in the cemetery.
The mournful tune of a bugler playing Taps then pierced the air, the sound echoing through the cemetery.
Friends cried as soldiers crisply folded the American flag draped over Shepherd’s coffin.
Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, commanding general of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, then knelt and presented the flag to Ruby Shepherd. He also gave her Shepherd’s Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals, awarded posthumously for his sacrifice.
Duplicate medals and another folded flag were also given to Shepherd’s mother, who said her son was a hero who deserved to be buried with others who served their country.
Shepherd, a graduate of Rustburg High School in Lynchburg, joined the Army just after he turned 18.
Though he was very serious about his work with the Army, he also liked to play jokes on those he loved. Shepherd used to booby trap his mother’s car doors with pop caps that went off when she opened the door.
“He’d do anything to get you all riled up,” Campbell said.
The Army didn’t dull his humor.
“When he was in boot camp one time, he talked back to the sergeant and the sergeant put him a locker for two hours,” his mother recalled earlier this week. “I asked him, ‘What did you do?’ He said, ‘We don’t get any sleep here. I took a nap. It was the best nap I had all day.’ “
Shepherd, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, was a member of the Fort McNair-based 767th Ordnance Company, 63rd Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group. He served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. No matter where he was, he believed in his mission, his mother said.
“He loved what he was doing. He believed in our president and every time someone would say something (like) how stupid it was we were over there, I’d get so mad,” Sheila Campbell said.
“But when I told him that, he’d say, ‘Don’t let it bother you, Mom. I’m over here to give them that choice.’ “