By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 2007
One soldier was on his way home to his baby girl and two others had just arrived in Iraq when they were killed in Baghdad on Easter Sunday. The remains of the three men were buried together yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.
A single silver, flag-draped coffin was set before the men's families. One pink-flowered crape myrtle tree marks the site, growing next to where the headstone bearing the three names will be placed.
Army Staff Sgt. Harrison Brown, Pfc. David N. Simmons and Sgt. Todd A. Singleton were killed April 8 when enemy forces attacked their units with a makeshift bomb and small-arms fire, the Defense Department reported. The three soldiers were in the same armored vehicle, family members said.
At yesterday's service, a seven-man squad fired three volleys, and a bugler played in the distance. A few dozen mourners looked on as Maj. Gen. Alan W. Thrasher presented flags to three mothers, two fathers and one widow.
The men are the most recent of 366 military personnel killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington.
Brown and Simmons were members of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Benning, Ga., and had been in Iraq for about a week. Brown, 31, was on his fourth tour; Simmons, 20, was on his first. Singleton, 24, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Calvary Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Calvary Division, based at Fort Hood, Tex.
"He was actually training them. . . . He was supposed to be coming home" to Muskegon County, Mich., said Shelly Carnes, Singleton's sister-in-law. Singleton's daughter, Emma, was a newborn when he left for his second tour. Now she is 11 months old, and "she looks just like him," Carnes said.
Singleton was outspoken, a leader, a prankster and "a real good friend," Carnes said. "He would have been a really good dad. That is what makes me sad. He never got the opportunity to be a dad."
Once, before Singleton's daughter was born, Carnes caught him "rocking nothing in a rocking chair." When she asked him what he was doing, he answered, 'I'm practicing for my baby,' " Carnes said.
Singleton graduated from Reeths-Puffer High School in Muskegon in 2001 and enlisted in the Army. On Sept. 24, 2001, shortly after he graduated from basic training, he married Stephanie, his high school sweetheart.
"I still see his face the last time he walked out the door," Carnes said. "I said: 'Don't worry. I'll take care of your girls.' He said, 'I know you'll take care of my girls.' "
Simmons, who went by his middle name, Neil, called his mother in Kokomo, Ind., the Saturday before Easter to say he would be hard to reach while on patrol. "The very next morning he was killed," said his mother, Teri Tenbrook. She said the armored vehicle that the three men were in was "entirely destroyed."
Simmons was "everybody's friend," his mother said. "He was a great son. He just had a very big heart and a huge smile that lit up every room, and he loved what he was doing," she said.
Simmons, the youngest of three children in a tightknit family, graduated from Northwestern High School in 2005. He completed National Guard basic training before going on active duty. He had always wanted to visit Arlington Cemetery, his mother said. "This is a trip he always wanted to take, but this isn't the way he wanted to do it," she said. "I can't believe I'm about to go to a service where my son is going to have a headstone in Arlington."
Brown, too, was known for his smile, said his wife, Delisha Brown. "Everyone admires him for his smile, how humble he was and willing to help anyone he can," she said. "He always put his soldiers first, before himself."
Brown, originally from Prichard, Ala., and known by the nickname "Duck," was a graduate of Blount High School and attended Tuskegee University on a football scholarship. After completing one year, he left Tuskegee to join the Army in 1995. The next year, he married his high school sweetheart, and they made Georgia their home.
Before he left for his fourth tour, the Browns' 9-year-old daughter, Kilani, told her father that she didn't want him to go, Delisha Brown said. He told her, "I would love to be here with you and Mommy, but Daddy has to go and protect us from the bad guys."
Delisha Brown decided not to attend the services at Arlington, because it would be too hard for her and Kilani. But she said she knows her husband would be honored to be there. She said she still sleeps with the computer volume turned all the way up, expecting to hear the chime signaling that her husband is online.
Brown's mother, Chris Ann Brown, his 13-year-old daughter, Alexya Harrison, and other family members attended the ceremony.
"We loved him so much, but the Lord loved him more. . . . He was extremely special for the Lord to come and take him on Easter Sunday," Delisha Brown said.
Yesterday's service was the second for the three families. Each soldier had a funeral in his home town in the spring.
"These soldiers shouldn't be forgotten," Carnes said.