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Published: Saturday, 5/1/2010

Fallen soldier's last letter vows love, even after death

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - A funeral procession of nearly 400 people passed on foot through Monroe's northwest corner Friday to lay to rest a young Army sergeant killed last month in Afghanistan.

A horse-drawn hearse carrying the flag-draped coffin of Sgt. Michael K. Ingram, Jr., 23, of Newport, Mich., led the procession for its 1.3-mile journey from Stewart Road Christian Ministries Center on Stewart Road to St. Joseph Cemetery on Monroe Street.

Hundreds more people lined the street, many waving flags and placing a hand over their heart.

"We didn't know him, but we're paying our respects to a young man who gave everything he had to our country," said Elouise Liford, 61, of Frenchtown Township, who watched the procession with work colleagues.

Several spectators such as Anne Kachar, 80, of Monroe, got caught up in the emotions of what they saw and stepped in to join the walk to the cemetery.

"I felt so bad that such a young man had to pass away and I am so glad to see him honored," she said.

The early afternoon procession followed a 90-minute service in the church that included remarks from several of Sergeant Ingram's friends and family members, a presentation of military honors, and the reading of a last letter he wrote in case he didn't return home alive.

Mourners following a horse-drawn hearse carrying the body of Sgt. Michael K. Ingram, Jr., 23, of Newport, Mich., were met along much of their 1.3-mile journey from the church to the cemetery by supporters in Monroe. Mourners following a horse-drawn hearse carrying the body of Sgt. Michael K. Ingram, Jr., 23, of Newport, Mich., were met along much of their 1.3-mile journey from the church to the cemetery by supporters in Monroe.
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Dozens of members of the Patriot Guard Riders stood outside the church with large U.S. flags as mourners gathered inside. The open casket revealed Sergeant Ingram's body in dark green military dress uniform.

"We gather at this moment and on this day to honor the life of a champion, the life of a hero," said the Rev. Sean O'Neal, senior pastor at the church. "He has run the course and finished the course well."

In Sergeant Ingram's final letter, dated March 10, 2009, he urged those at his funeral to reflect on the good memories they shared and not dwell on the emotional loss of his death. He also personally thanked dozens of loved ones for everything they had done for him.

"Moving on after someone's life is the key thing," he wrote. "I love you all with every bit of my being, dead or alive."

Sergeant Ingram died April 17 from injuries suffered from an improvised explosive device while he was on patrol with his unit in Afghanistan.

A 2005 graduate of Monroe High School, he joined the Army in February, 2006, and was a member of 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Carson, Colo.

He was posthumously promoted from the rank of corporal to sergeant. During the funeral, Maj. Gen. James Gilman called on all servicemen in the church audience to stand at attention for a "proper" promotion ceremony.

"I've seen few young soldiers who I thought have worked harder for that promotion than Michael Ingram," he said.

General Gilman also led the presentation of a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart to the fallen soldier's family. Sergeant Ingram had the option of returning home for an injury he received several weeks ago, "but Sergeant Ingram would not leave his fire team. It was his desire that they all come home together," he said.

He and his team were scheduled to return home June 5 after a year of service in the war.

Sergeant Ingram's stepfather, Ron Kitts, said the family will miss "Mikie" and his big, always-present smile. He recalled his great sense of humor and love for kidding around. He also had a varied taste in music that ran from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson.

"He was the most wonderful person I've ever met," Mr. Kitts said. "We lost a hero." He and Sergeant Ingram's mother, Patricia, live in Grand Junction, Colo. Sergeant Ingram's father, Michael, lives in Newport, Mich.

Bagpipe music filled the air as pallbearers carried the soldier's casket from the church to the black hearse for his final journey.

Some spectators stood alongside the road for more than an hour to see the procession. Members of the junior and senior classes at St. Mary Catholic Central High School waited by the cemetery gates for the sergeant's body to pass.

"We wanted the students to have an opportunity to pay their respects to Sergeant Ingram and his family for their sacrifices to their country," said school President Sean Jorgensen.

An Army Reserve Military Funeral Honors team led the cemetery services, which included a rifle salute and a stereo that played "Family Tradition," a favorite Hank Williams, Jr., song.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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