Remembering The Fallen

Remembering The Fallen
Rich Schild was half a world away, battling in harm's way in Iraq, but he worried whether people back home had electricity.

Sgt. First Class Schild, the office manager for Bon Homme-Yankton Rural Electric Association, Tabor, was monitoring the unprecedented Nov. 28 ice storm which left many customers without power for a week. He used the Webcam to stay on top of developments.

That kind of dedication didn't surprise his family members, who are now grieving Schild's death following the Dec. 4 detonation of a roadside bomb in Baghdad. Schild was serving with the 147th Field Artillery unit based in Yankton.

Kay Schild said Tuesday her husband called home with ideas for overcoming the recent power outages.

"He would call and say, ?Kay, we have all these poles and all these lines down,'" she said.

Staff Sgt. Brooks Schild of Yankton, who served alongside his brother, said Rich always put others ahead of himself, even when he was in a dangerous situation.

"Richard was concerned about what people were going to do back home (without power), even though he was 6,800 miles away," Brooks said with a chuckle and shake of his head.

Rich Schild brought that same fierce passion and dedication to his military service and fellow Charlie Battery members, his widow said.

"Rich was very proud of his fellow soldiers in Charlie Battery, who continue their mission in Iraq. I know this pride in his unit continues even with him not being there," she said.

"He loved all his fellow soldiers like brothers and would stop at nothing to keep them safe. Rich would want his fellow Charlie Battery brothers to remember everyone at home is thinking of you and praying for your safe return."

Rich earned respect because of who he was as a person, not merely because of his rank, Brooks said. "He didn't check on his soldiers 24/7. He joked with them, and they teased him back. The soldiers did things to please him," he said.

The Schilds are receiving support from people they don't know, Kay said. "I go to stores, and quite a few places don't charge me for anything. They say, ?We owe you.'"

Brooks found an outpouring of support while traveling back to the United States, and other people's emotions intensified when they learned he was escorting his brother's body.

"When I was on the airline, they bumped me to first class. Restaurants gave me free meals. Hotels gave me free rooms," he said. "On the flight home, stewardesses were crying and hugging me."

Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Rounds paid a condolence visit to the Charlie Battery support group in Yankton, Kay said. "They are all brothers in Iraq, and we are all sisters in Yankton. But (our families) also come from Mitchell, Salem and Sioux Falls."

A joint memorial service with Staff Sgt. Dan Cuka, also killed in the same incident, will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Yankton High School auditorium.

Richard was in the gunner position the day of the insurgent attack, trading places with another soldier who needed practice running the vehicle, Brooks said. The improvised explosive devices went off, hitting HUMVEES containing Cuka and Rich Schild. Brooks was in a vehicle that trailed the initial bombing, and the unit pulled into a defensive position.

When the vehicles were able to evacuate, they recovered the two fallen soldiers. "I want people to know they died right away, without pain or suffering," Brooks said.

Kay said the account of the attack brings a sense of relief. "That's my comfort, that Brooks was there and Richard didn't suffer," she said.

"They are heroes. They died doing good things," said Brooks, who is journaling the wartime experiences.

Brooks believes God played a hand in bringing him together in service with his brother. Brooks had served with an Iowa unit before returning to Yankton. After five years out of the National Guard, Brooks joined Charlie Battery. Because of delays in his re-entry with the Guard, Brooks was activated with Rich for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Five days before Rich's death, on his 40th birthday, the battery moved around and Rich was moved into a room with me. He kept saying, ?What kind of a birthday present is this?'" Brooks said with a chuckle.

"It was fantastic. We talked, laughed, watched TV, helped each other out, went to dinner together and went on missions. It was a blessing I could be part of all that with him."

On the day of the fatal attack, a Sunday, the Schilds couldn't attend Mass, so Brooks played contemporary Christian music and read Bible verses about God's instructions to put on a suit of armor.

"Rich put on his suit of armor that day," Brooks said, noting the appropriateness of the passage.

That night, Brooks sat alone in his room, sobbing for his fallen brother. But he was not alone, as the entire unit gathered to grieve. Another memorial ceremony was held later in the week.

"They were all saddened and crying their hearts out. They all feel that way after this happens," Brooks said. "The ultimate honor for me was to bring Rich home. But the mission isn't done yet, because Dan (Cuka) isn't home."

The public and media must make sure Charlie Battery's sacrifices are not in vain by emphasizing the positive contributions of the mission, such as deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, Brooks said.

Kay said she still feels Rich's presence with her and their children, Keely, 7, and Koby, 6.

"Rich is looking down on me, and telling me to remain strong for the kids," she said.

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