Yesterday, a soft breeze blew through the wreath of flowers next to the wooden coffin of Sgt. Edward Ralph Heselton as he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Heselton, 23, was killed Aug. 11 in Orgun-E, Afghanistan. According to his father, Verne Heselton, he had been driving a truck ahead of a convoy. Heselton, a mechanic, was headed to repair military vehicles needed to clear the way for building a road.
"He was the first one in line," said his father, who attended yesterday's service with Heselton's mother, Becky. "A rocket was fired and hit the roof of the truck."
Heselton, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, lived in Easley, S.C., with his wife, Melissa, and 13-month-old daughter, Meghan Nichole. He was assigned to the Army Reserve's 391st Engineer Battalion, 415th Chemical Brigade, based in Greenville, S.C.
Those who knew "Eddie" said he had a gift for fixing things. As a teenager, he passed a Navy enlistment test but later opted for the Army Reserve so he could have more experience working on equipment, his father said. In between technical college and Reserve training, he built a deck for his mobile home, overhauled the engine on his mother's car, helped his father revamp a 1962 Cadillac and welded together a small sculpture out of old vehicle parts.
"He was unbelievably good. Eddie could come in and fix things he didn't know how to fix in just two weeks," recalled his father, who said he spent many happy hours tooling over the '62 Cadillac with his son. "If something was broken, people said, 'Call Eddie, he'll know.' He was always helping somebody with something."
Those who had worked with Heselton at a military maintenance center in Greenville said that in addition to having natural talent, he was eager to learn.
"He was always picking my brain about something," said Bill McClellan, a retired master sergeant who worked with Heselton for about two years. McClellan, who specialized in communications and electronics, said that he often installed equipment in vehicles that Heselton was repairing and that the young man was especially hungry for knowledge about radios and computers.
"He was the kind of worker who went the extra mile," McClellan said.
While Heselton was working at the sandwich shop where he met his future wife, he took time to repair the drains, his father said.
Heselton was born and raised in Greenville and graduated from Berea High School. He played trombone in the school band, said Principal Bill Roach, who was then an assistant principal.
As a student, Heselton stood out for his good behavior and dedication to the band, and his return to the school several years after graduation left a lasting impression. He returned to Berea High fresh from boot camp to help out backstage at a school pageant, setting up props and helping the performance run smoothly.
"He was a kid other kids could look up to," McClellan said.
Heselton's unit was called up last fall, and by February, he was at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. After a brief leave to see his family, he was deployed to Afghanistan in April.
"If he believed in something, he was going to give you anything he had," Roach said. "He gave everything when he was here."