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W.Va. Soldier Who Cheated Death Once Is Laid to Rest

Guardsman Was Assigned To Va. Unit in Afghanistan

By Sarah Park
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2004; Page B05

MARTINSBURG, W.Va., Aug. 16 -- When lightning struck a tree near Sgt. Bobby E. Beasley at Fort A.P. Hill two summers ago, he was thrown about 20 feet but survived his brush with death.

"All it took was coffee and a cigarette" to get him back on his feet after the incident, Col. Robert Simpson said Monday at Beasley's funeral, reading the testimonials of the Virginia Army National Guardsman's comrades who remain in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Bobby E. Beasley's wife, Juanita, right, and her mother, Janie Shirley, grieve at the graveside. Behind them are Staff Sgt. Marie Diaz, and Juanita Beasley's brother Richard Basore and his son Brian. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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Beasley, 36, of Inwood, W.Va., did not have such luck with an explosion in Ghazikel, Afghanistan. He died Aug. 7 after his vehicle hit a bomb on the side of a dirt road.

The blast, which is under investigation, also killed Staff Sgt. Craig W. Cherry, 39, of Winchester, Va., and an Afghan interpreter. Beasley and Cherry, who were close friends, were assigned to the Virginia Guard's 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, in Winchester. The battalion is part of the 1st Brigade, 29th Infantry Division (Light) with headquarters at Fort Belvoir.

Their deaths came less than a month after they arrived in Afghanistan.

During the burial at the Rosedale Funeral Home and Cemetery, seven soldiers fired a salute that rumbled across the open blue sky like thunder. Dogs in the rural neighborhood surrounding the cemetery returned the salute with excited barking.

More than 400 people packed the funeral home, which seats 300. Among them were dozens of uniformed mourners, including Army personnel in dark green suits and workers from Kraft General Foods in Winchester, Beasley's civilian employer, in burgundy, collared T-shirts.

Gov. Robert E. Wise Jr. (D) ordered state flags at all state facilities to be flown at half-staff to honor Beasley.

Sgt. 1st Class Hampton Thomas, Beasley's platoon sergeant, recalled the soldier as a practical joker who once handed him a fistful of jelly beans and watched his reaction. "The first few tasted very fruity and [good], until I got to the jalapeno peppers," Thomas said.

He also recalled Beasley's less humorous, "moody" moments, before he met his wife-to-be, Juanita, now 32, and married her four years ago.

"I think she pretty much told him she wasn't going to put up with that," Thomas said, referring to moments when Beasley seemed to want to be left alone.

Beasley's wife selected a burial plot under a tall pine tree and near an American flag, to reflect her husband's love of nature and country. He served four years in the Navy and 12 years in the Guard.

His family requested that the song "American Soldier" by Toby Keith be played during the memorial service. Its lyrics brought tears to many eyes:

You can bet that I stand ready, when the wolf growls at the door

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