3 Servicemen, 3 Stories of Dedication

Rebecca Hay holds her daughter, Abigail, next to relatives during a service for her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Hay of Valdosta, Ga.
Rebecca Hay holds her daughter, Abigail, next to relatives during a service for her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Hay of Valdosta, Ga. "Dennis went back for a second tour because of the Iraqi children," a friend said. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Lila de Tantillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Three men who chose to risk their lives for their country by serving in Iraq were laid to rest yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. One had switched military branches to pursue his dream of flying helicopters; another could have retired but chose to remain in the service; and a third decided to reenlist on the condition that he be sent to Iraq.

Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Patrick Hay of Valdosta, Ga., was killed Aug. 29 when the helicopter he was piloting was attacked by enemy fire in Tal Afar, Iraq, near the Syrian border. Hay, 32, was assigned to the 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, of Fort Carson, Colo.

A horse-drawn caisson led a procession through rain and blustery wind yesterday from the U.S. Coast Guard Memorial to Hay's final resting place. A military band played "America the Beautiful" as an honor guard folded the flag covering the urn that held Hay's ashes. Maj. Gen. Charles Wilson presented the flag to Hay's wife, Rebecca. Hay also was mourned by his children, Jacob and Abigail, parents Barry and Patty, brother Barry and sister Bridgette.

"The most important thing to Dennis was that he wanted people to know that he had a relationship with God, and he wanted to make sure that other people did, too," said Misty Ricks, 30, a friend from Brunswick, Ga., who had known Hay for more than a decade from Agape Christian Fellowship in St. Marys, Ga.

Ricks knew Hay as an adventurous guy in her youth group who rode a BMX bike and liked to use it to do stunts -- but only if he could execute the thrill-seeking maneuvers safely.

Hay had served as a parajumper in the Air Force before applying for a transfer several years ago to the Army so he could train to become a helicopter pilot. He hoped to use the skill one day as a missionary to bring aid to those in need.

"Dennis went back for a second tour because of the Iraqi children," Ricks said, adding that he had told her that if others could see the difference the United States was making in the young Iraqis' future, "they would understand why he was going back."

Lt. Col. Leon Gifford James II of Sackets Harbor, N.Y., was wounded Sept. 26 in Baghdad when an explosive device detonated near his Humvee. He died Oct. 10 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. James, 46, was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 314th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 78th Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y.

Friends said that James, who served as an elder at United Presbyterian Church in Sackets Harbor and helped manage its finances, had been eligible to retire from the service. But he decided to stay to fight for a cause he believed in. He kept in excellent shape -- even outrunning men two decades his junior in training drills, his friends said.

For James's full-honors funeral, a team of dark horses led the procession from the Old Post Chapel. A military band played "Amazing Grace" as the flag-draped coffin -- covered with a clear plastic sheath to protect it from the rain -- was brought to the grave site. Maj. Gen. Wayne Erck presented the flag to James's wife, Silvia, who was accompanied by their children, Maria, Rachael and Kathryn.

Marine Sgt. Mark P. Adams of Morrisville, N.C., was killed Oct. 15 by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations in Saqlawiyah, Iraq. Adams, 24, was a reservist attached to the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

A Marine honor guard from the barracks at Eighth and I streets NW in Washington carried Adams's gray coffin to a grave site near a memorial to those who died serving in Somalia. Navy chaplain Robert Rearick delivered a sermon before the guard presented a folded U.S. flag to Gunnery Sgt. Barry L. Baker, who knelt before Adams's father, Phillip Adams, to hand him the tribute.

Mark Adams was the youngest of three sons, all of whom served in the military. As a freshman, he joined the wrestling team at Cary High School in North Carolina, and by all accounts his performance at first was terrible. But over several years, he worked to strengthen his body and refine his technique. By his senior year, he was chosen as captain, and the team won a state championship.

Adams joined the Marines shortly after graduation but saw little action during several years stationed in the Pacific. He returned to his home town near Raleigh, where he volunteered as a coach for the wrestling team, but soon decided to return to the service.

Jean Tursam, 57, a longtime family friend, said the elder Adams told the 600 people who attended a memorial service at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary about his son's motivation.

" 'We're going to choose to fight them in Iraq or we're going to choose to fight them here,' " Mark Adams had said.

Tursam said that even after the young Marine was promoted to platoon leader, he still chose to take the dangerous position in the turret of the Humvee, where he was killed by a piece of shrapnel. "He wouldn't ask his men to do something he wouldn't do himself," she said.

Hay, James and Adams were the 181st, 182nd and 183rd service members killed in the Iraq conflict to be buried at the cemetery.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company