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Published: 1/3/2005

Tragedy of war hit home for 7 area families during 2004

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The just-concluded holiday season was undoubtedly a difficult period for relatives and friends of six military personnel and one civilian from the Toledo area who died in the Iraq war during 2004.

"Our faith is keeping us going. If it wasn't for that, I'd probably be in tears every day," Ann Odums said of her husband and herself over the death of their 22-year-old son, Army Spec. Charles E. Odums II of Sandusky.

The Army medic with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, was killed May 30 when a Humvee he was driving in Baghdad was destroyed by a bomb.

"He was like the sunlight," Mrs. Odums said.

"He'd walk into a room, and he'd brighten up the room. He loved life, and he loved children and his family.

"More than anything else, during the funeral, [people said] they'd miss his smile, his laughter," Mrs. Odums said. "He just loved life, and it showed."

The recent death of Army Pfc. Josh Ramsey of Defiance brought to seven the number of area residents killed in the war last year.

According to Department of Defense figures, American military deaths since Operation Iraqi Freedom began totaled nearly 1,330 by Dec. 31 - a number nearly equal to the entire population of the Wood County village of Pemberville.

This area's first casualty in 2004 was Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Fox, 34, a former Adrian resident. He died April 20 in Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries received March 14.

Sergeant Fox, an Operation Desert Storm veteran, was the turret gunner on an M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle that was damaged by a roadside bomb in southeastern Iraq.

Army Pfc. Dennis Miller, Jr., 21, of LaSalle, Mich., a 2001 Erie Mason High School graduate, died Nov. 10 near Ramadi when his tank was ambushed by insurgents.

Private Miller was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He was transferred to Iraq from South Korea in September.

A militant group posted a gruesome video on the Internet Sept. 20 showing the beheading of Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, a Hillsdale, Mich., native and engineer who was taken hostage along with two other men from their home in central Baghdad.

Mr. Armstrong, who grew up in Hillsdale but left the area around 1990, worked in construction around the globe. He lived in Thailand with his wife before going to Iraq.

Army Pfc. Jason Sparks, 19, of Huron County, died Sept. 8 in Fallujah. Private Sparks, who graduated last year from Monroeville High School, had arrived in Iraq only days earlier.

The young man's father, Scott Sparks, hopes people will remember his son's ebullient personality.

"His legacy is probably that he was just so well-liked," Mr. Sparks said. "He touched so many lives in very positive ways."

The death of Private Sparks hasn't changed his father's opinion of the war. The elder Sparks served in 2003 with the 179th Airlift Wing in Kuwait.

"I feel it's important that we finish the job, but I also think it's important that we start reporting the good things that are happening over there."

He pointed out how American troops are helping to rebuild Iraq, including schools.

The education of Iraqi children was important to Army Capt. Dennis Pintor, 30, who was killed Oct. 12 when an improvised explosive went off in the roadside while he was riding in a lead vehicle of a convoy.

A 1992 graduate of Elida High School northwest of Lima, Captain Pintor graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1998.

He had been stationed in Iraq since March with the 20th Engineer Battalion B from Fort Hood.

The day before he died, Captain Pintor sent an e-mail to the Lima News asking residents of his hometown to donate school supplies for children in Iraq.

"School here has just begun session, and many of the students need supplies," he wrote.

"People from across the U.S. have already donated great amounts of pens, paper, pencils, etc. I tell you it makes a difference in the kids and my soldiers."

Response to the soldier's last wish has been gratifying, said Lilian Abelita, a close friend of the Pintor family who knew Captain Pintor his entire life.

"We could not believe the response," the Lima resident said.

"It was just overwhelming. We've sent 76 boxes, and there's 50 more that we have to pack."

She's heard the children who touched the young captain's life have begun to benefit from his plea.

"I talked to Dennis' wife, and they have started getting this stuff," Mrs. Abelita said. "Before Christmas, they started giving the stuff to the kids."

It is a fitting tribute to the West Point graduate, she added.

"That was his job in Iraq, to protect the schoolchildren," Mrs. Abelita said. "That was what he was assigned to do. On his off- days, he would go to the villages to play with the children."

"We hate to lose him, but his legacy will go on. "

Mrs. Odums said she supports the troops still overseas, but she acknowledges that she wishes the war would end today.

"I'm disappointed that we're still fighting, that we're still losing young men and women," she said.

"We had hoped by now the war would have been over a long time. We support the young men and women, but we'd love to have them back safe and sound, so we don't to have to worry about them."

Contact Vanessa Winans at: vwinans@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.



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