I can’t begin to imagine what Ann and Bill Byers of Schleswig, Iowa, must be going through right now.
One might think there could be nothing worse than losing a young son — with an infant daughter of his own — to a war launched under questionable circumstances. There is: losing another — the only remaining son and also a soldier — two days before the first son’s funeral. The double tragedy carries an unspeakable amount of grief, particularly for the residents of the small town of only 850.
Sgt. Casey Byers, 22 — a member of the Ottumwa-based Company B 224th Engineering Battaliona stationed at Ramadi — was killed Saturday, June 11, when a roadside bomb exploded directly beneath his Humvee south of Ramadi in Iraq. He was the 28th Iowan to die in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. Another Iowa soldier, 28-year-old Spc. James Migues, Jr. of Ottumwa, was on foot patrol in front of the Humvee and injured during the explosion. Another soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Neal Prince of Colorado, also was killed in the incident.
According to unit commander Lt. Col. Todd Jacobus of Des Moines, the tragedy was intensely personal to the soldiers’ fellow comrades. In an e-mail to the fallen soldiers’ family and friends, Jacobus recalled that Byers “told people that his first name was ‘THE,’ as in ‘THE BYERS.’ He was very proud that he had a daughter, and told many of the other soldiers that he was ‘the world’s greatest dad,’ commenting how he couldn’t wait to get home and spend time with his parents and daughter.”
That wasn’t the only thing on the young soldier’s mind. Lt. Col. Jacobus went on to write that “Spc. Byers had told members of his platoon that he had a brother in a United States Army Reserve transportation company out of Sac City, and that his unit was supposed to be mobilized in the fall. Spc. Byers had humorously mentioned to many that ‘Iraq can’t handle two Byers at the same time.’”
Neither Byers, nor Jacobus, could possibly have foreseen the twist of fate about to take place.
Two days before Byers’ funeral, his 19-year-old brother, Justin “Paul,” was struck and killed by a truck while walking out of a ditch along U.S. Highway 30 about a mile west of Vail, Iowa. According to the Des Moines Register, the younger Byers was hit around 9:40 p.m. Monday night.
Funeral services for Casey Byers, a 2001 graduate of Ar-We-Va High School in Vail, Iowa, are scheduled for today at 11 a.m. at the Company C 1st-168th Infantry Iowa Army National Guard in Denison. His cremated remains will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia at a later date. Services are still pending for his younger brother.
The brothers are survived by their parents and one sister, Jennifer, as well as Casey’s infant daughter, Hailey.
My heart goes out to this family who lives but 35 miles from me — “neighbors” as we rural Iowans call them — whose names I never knew until this June. May God, and peace, be with them all.