An Outpouring of Affection, Grief
Md. Town Says Its Farewells to A Young Soldier
Friday, May 22, 2009
FEDERALSBURG, Md., May 21 -- The impact of Army Pfc. Michael E. Yates's death on his tiny home town here on Maryland's Eastern Shore is easy to see.
The bank and the pharmacy have put up signs memorializing Yates, 19, who was killed last week by a fellow soldier in Iraq. High school seniors painted "RIP Mikey" on their cars next to celebratory messages about the Class of '09. Teenage girls wore T-shirts emblazoned with his image and the words "Our Fallen Soldier."
On Thursday, at a funeral home on North Main Street, people filled every available inch of space and spilled out onto the sidewalk. The procession to his burial at Eastern Shore Veterans Cemetery, a few miles up the road, appeared to stretch on forever.
Friends said it was a fitting tribute to Yates, a gregarious young man who was fiercely loyal to the people he loved and who made friends everywhere he went.
Asked how he first met Yates, Jeff Dusack shrugged.
"Everybody, literally everybody, knew Mikey," he said. "Even before I knew him, I knew who he was, and then we started hanging out, and we were friends from then on."
It was Yates who persuaded Dusack to jump off a pier over the Choptank River, a popular activity for Federalsburg teenagers. Dusack was nervous about the leap, but Yates wasn't. He jumped in and then egged on his friends until they did the same.
"He was nice to everybody, so everybody loved him," Will Nowottnik said.
Yates wasn't scared of Iraq either, his friends said. An avid hunter, he loved weapons and thought of military service as an adventure. When he was on leave from Iraq last month, he had trouble readjusting to civilian life and had a few fights. Back in Iraq, he signed up for counseling and was in a group therapy session when a fellow patient opened fire, killing Yates and four other service members.
At Yates's funeral, dozens of photographs lined the front of the chapel, and others were displayed on a flat-screen television above them. The pictures scrolled chronologically, beginning with Yates as a grinning toddler in the bathtub and advancing to his official Army portrait and snapshots of him with his friends and his year-old son, Kamren Mister.
Yates had broken up with Kamren's mother, but he was devoted to his son. When Yates left for Iraq, he told his mother and stepfather to give the child and his mother anything they needed.
"His son meant the world to him," said Rachel Adkins, who had known Yates since elementary school. "He would have done anything for him."
Among the mourners at the funeral home were Yates's 11 siblings and stepsiblings, two of whom had served in Iraq. Yates, dressed in his Army uniform, lay in a flag-draped coffin, its satin lining marked with scenes of hunting and fishing, his favorite activities. The burial procession stopped at his childhood home and his favorite fishing hole before proceeding to the cemetery.
Friends pledged to hold onto their favorite memories of Yates, such as the time when he and his sister pretended to box each other at a party.
For Will Nowottnik, it will be easy to remember Yates's influence. He plans to join the Navy, on Yates's advice.
"He told me it'd be a good thing to do for my life and that it's good to serve my country," Nowottnik said.