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December 7, 2013

Memories still run deep 10 years later

Friends, family honor fallen Rocky Face soldier

Grown men stood at his gravestone and cried.

They were soldiers, all of them together, and 10 years after their friend and comrade died from injuries caused by an improvised explosive device just months short of his last tour in Iraq, the men came from hundreds of miles away to surround Spc. Marshall Edgerton’s widow and two children and honor the man they knew.

The 27-year-old from Rocky Face was assigned to Company A of the 82nd Signal Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, N.C. Nearly four years earlier, he’d signed that period of his life over to Uncle Sam, hoping the service and an eventual college degree would help him better support his family. He survived a tour in Afghanistan before returning home for several months, then shipping out out to Iraq.

Just days before coalition forces captured Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Edgerton boarded a pickup truck with three Iraqis inside he was escorting on a military base in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. According to news reports from the time, Edgerton apparently realized what was happening, and his shouts are believed to have warned others who would have been in harm’s way just before a massive explosion.

An investigation would later find the truck had been rigged with four artillery shells weighing about 100 pounds each. The suicide bombs were concealed by the pickup’s gas tank. Edgerton, the only U.S. soldier killed, died Dec. 11, 2003. Fourteen others were wounded. News reports from the time indicate the bombing marked a rare instance of a U.S. military compound being penetrated — yet violence in Iraq was expected to escalate as some of the U.S. forces prepared to pull out.

Edgerton was a 1995 graduate of Northwest Whitfield High School. He’d participated in football and wrestling, and he played softball even after school. His roots in the community ran deep. When his body was returned home for his Dec. 23 burial, “this town shut down,” recalled Matt Russell, who was a staff sergeant in Edgerton’s unit when the soldier was killed.

“The streets were lined with people. Like there was nothing else going on in town.”

His wife, Amy, said at the time that while he loved the Army, he was also looking forward to coming home. He wanted to be with his daughter, Alyssa, who was just 2, and his son, Hunter, 7. Near his grave at Colonial Hills Memorial Park Cemetery where Edgerton is buried, fellow soldier John White said on Saturday he remembers Edgerton bringing his son around sometimes and playing with him. He also remembers Edgerton cooking “drunk chicken.”

Deanna Burton, whose husband, Derick, served in the same unit with Edgerton, said Edgerton was a “larger than life” presence at a party where she remembers meeting him as he sang or called out cheerfully to people.

Bruce Smith broke out his guitar and sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Terry’s Song (They Broke The Mold)” in Edgerton’s honor. Edgerton’s mother, Glenda Est, said she was thankful for everyone’s support and asked that families of others lost at war continue to be remembered. She said she takes comfort in knowing her son is with God.

“I know Marshall was looking down on us today,” she said, urging others in attendance to think about their relationship with God and make sure it’s right.

She and Amy said they hope Edgerton is remembered especially for his smile, for being a jokester and for how much he loved his children.

Those gathered for the service placed small American flags on Edgerton’s grave. His gravestone shows he received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal for his actions in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Derick Burton, who helped organize Saturday’s memorial gathering and lives in northern Illinois, said the group has set up a fund to benefit Edgerton’s widow and two children. To donate, send an email to marshall.edgerton.memorial@gmail.com.

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