Soldier leaves strength

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2005

For many of the young mourners flooding into Jeffersonville Missionary Baptist Church it was likely that the funeral of Spec. David H. Ford IV was their first.

It was evident in the way they pawed self-consciously at attire they weren't quite sure was right, the way their eyes darted amongst more experienced funeral goers trying to find the right mannerisms, the right mood.

It is hard to imagine that Ford, just six days into his 20th year when he was killed more than two weeks ago, would have been much more comfortable, much more at ease than the sniffling, frightened friends he had left behind.

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But if the words that have been exchanged about Ford since his death while serving with the U.S. Army in Baghdad are any indication, the soldier would have supplied more than enough strength.

For those young people he had met while attending Ironton High School or working at Wendy's, the one person they may have needed was the one who was not there.

To those who knew him, David Ford, who had buried a Navy-veteran father as a boy and faced death with his tank convoy in Iraq everyday, had an inner-strength that surprised everyone, a strength to counter his small stature and youthful face.

Last Sunday, Jeffersonville Missionary Baptist had 82 attendees. The week before: 80. On an unseasonably warm September Thursday, there was no pew unfilled.

Every seat was filled by a mother, a friend, or a cousin that was clinging to their loved ones just a little bit tighter.

This was David Ford's legacy.

Brigadier General John C. Bartley, one of the first to speak in the church, read a statement from Ford's commander in Iraq, one written not only for Ford, but for the two others he died alongside. The commander admitted he had made the same mistake as many had made: Underestimating David H. Ford.

"When I saw him, I thought to myself 'My goodness, this soldier looks so young,' but as time went by I saw him mature from a boy into a man," Bartley said, reading from the letter.

"Watching him grow amazed me. As first gunner, I could see he was nervous, but before I knew it, he was standing before me grinning from ear to ear. He said that being in the tank, going down a range, firing rounds was the greatest.

"I had never seen such a proud smile. He never questioned an order, never complained Š he gave all."

Perhaps for the first-time funeral goers swapped stories about Ford as they made the long drive from the Coal Grove church to the small cemetery in Aid Township, sharing in those odd, brief moments of levity that trickle through every somber event. Maybe they simply cried.

However, the only sound at the graveside of David H. Ford was the calm, steady voice of Pastor Roger Pierce, passing on the last piece of a message of salvation. He tried to pass a comforting thought to a group with many young people who may have just then fully understand the nature of mortality.

The tears, the gasps and the sobs grew in intensity as various parts of the funeral rite drove home the reality of the situation for different people. For some, it was the deafening crack of the 21-gun salute; for others, it was the chilly brass of "Taps" slicing through the air.

What finally drove many to tears was that deliberate, perfect folding of the flag that Ford died to protect and now served as his final blanket.

Bartley took a knee, a tribute to David and the family that had given him to a grateful nation, and handed the flag to Violet Ford, mother of the fallen soldier.

She clung to it tightly, as if some part of David was still trapped inside some of the red, white and blue stitching.

As the young friends and relatives of Ford made their way back to their cars, it was clear that Violet was not the only one who held on to a fragment of the boy they had known, the man they had lost.

It was evident in the way they helped each other back to cars, in the way that they managed to form a smile on faces reddened with tears.

Whether it had been their first funeral or their 100th, they

made it through just the same. Maybe it was the surprising strength of David Ford was with every one of them.