Burlington soldier#8217;s body returned home

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

KENOVA, W.Va. — It was as though a silence fell over the Tri-State Airport Thursday afternoon as a Burlington soldier came home for the last time.

The only sound at the airport was that of a steady wind blowing through the American flags that hung solemnly in honor of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Theodore “Tuc” Church.

The 32-year-old was killed on Memorial Day when the helicopter he was piloting was shot down in Iraq.

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A handful of family and friends, including his mother, Betty Church and, brother, Tim Church, met the chartered flight that carried the casket of the fallen soldier.

They waited, clutching each other and blotting tears, as the plane opened its hatch to reveal the flag-draped casket. It was then carried to an awaiting hearse from Schneider Griffin Funeral Home by an honor guard unit based at Fort Knox, Ky.

The Chesapeake Police Department and South Point and Burlington Fayette Fire District No. 1 volunteer fire departments led the procession to the funeral home in Chesapeake.

Church’s body has been brought home for a service Sunday afternoon at his alma mater, South Point High School. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

“I think it has been a big shock,” said Larry Lewis, the great-uncle of Church’s wife, the former Mindi Watters. “It seems like it keeps getting worse. Reality is starting to set in.”

Church had been married 12 years and had a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

“He was just a super guy and a super dad,” Lewis said as he waited for the plane to land at the airport Thursday. “He was the ultimate hero. All of them who die over there are heroes.”

Church had been a member of the Army for nearly six years. He was also a Navy veteran, serving four years after graduating high school.

Family friend Tammy Hawthorne was also on hand at the airport.

“This is not the way you want to bring your son home,” said the Proctorville resident wiping tears. “It’s just devastating.”

She said Betty’s Church’s father passed away a few weeks ago, making the loss of her son even more difficult to deal with.

“They were just down-home, good-hearted, loving, patriotic people,” Hawthorne said of the Church family. “They were just average Americans trying to get through life.”

Visitation for Church will be 6-9 p.m. Saturday at Schneider Griffin Funeral Home. The service at SPHS begins at 2 p.m. Sunday.