Army Sgt. Jack "Jay" Bryant Jr., 23,
Dale City, Maryland
The medals and the American flag were almost too much for Kiona Bryant to hold as she sat yesterday at the grave of her high school sweetheart.
So she bundled them together, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star and the flag that once draped the coffin of her husband, Jack, and turned her head away from the scene.
One by one, the soldiers who conducted the service touched her arm, whispered condolences and marched off across an open field at Arlington National Cemetery.It was a scene that would be repeated later in the day. Bryant's husband was one of two soldiers killed in Iraq who were laid to rest yesterday in the cemetery, hours apart, in nearby graves.
Army Sgt. Jack "Jay" Bryant Jr., 23, died Nov. 20 in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his military convoy, followed by a rocket-propelled grenade attack. Bryant, of Dale City, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, based in Vilseck, Germany.
Lance Cpl. Dimitrios Gavriel, 29, a native of Haverhill, Mass., was killed a day earlier a result of enemy action in the Anbar province. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The men were the 98th and 99th service members killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington. The long, slow sound of taps rang out for both men on the crisp, clear day.
Bryant had begged his parents not to worry when he was deployed to Iraq and promised them he would be fine. "He would often tell us that he's immortal," his father, Jack Bryant Sr., said in an interview shortly after his son's death.
Just before he was killed, Bryant had a two-week leave in Germany with his wife and their toddler son, Keshawn James. Together, they celebrated an early Thanksgiving, far from their home in Dale City, and far from the uncertain battlefields of Iraq. They took a seven-day tour of Paris, and then Bryant returned to combat.
Bryant graduated from Hylton High School just over five years ago and went straight into the Army with dreams of seeing the world -- which he did -- and taking some time off before coming home for college. Recently, he had taken some computer science courses through the University of Maryland.
Endlessly optimistic, quick with a smile or a joke, Bryant's real passion was music, his father said. He sang in the choir at Star Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Triangle, where his father is an associate minister. Shortly before his death, Bryant had taken to writing rap songs.
At 10 a.m. yesterday, the soldier's friends and family gathered around his grave. There, before burying his son, Jack Bryant Sr. somberly received an American flag from Lt. Gen. Larry J. Dodgen, commanding general of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Kiona Bryant accepted one as well, along with her husband's medals.
An Army firing party fired into the air a final salute of three shots, sharp and quick.
Three hours later, Gavriel's family and friends arrived, as did Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D) and John F. Kerry (D), both of whom carried small yellow flower arrangements to place on the casket. Gavriel's mother accepted a flag from Staff Sgt. Charles Dorsey of the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington. A Greek Orthodox chaplain, the Rev. Father Nicholas Manousalas, finished the ceremony.
Two weeks before his death, Gavriel told reporters he was "locked, cocked and ready to rock," the Boston Globe reported.
Like Bryant, Gavriel had a thing for rhymes.
The high school wrestling champion and former Wall Street analyst, began keeping a journal of poems and thoughts after he graduated from Brown University in 1997, which his parents, Chris and Penelope, found only recently, according to media reports. In one piece, published in the Boston Herald shortly before his funeral in Haverhill, he wrote:
And then there are the dreamers
Who see beyond the shroud
Distinct are they among us
They shuffle through the crowd
Hope lives among so few
Yet strong it is I know
For I am still a dreamer
Along the track I go
After he died, friends and family remembered Gavriel as an idealist, a 270-pound giant of a man who quit a high-profile job in finance to do what he believed was right, according to accounts in the Massachusetts newspapers. On Sept. 11, 2001, during the moments before the attacks on the World Trade Center, Gavriel had been on the phone with a friend working in one of the towers, according to the news stories. That made it clear: He would go to Iraq.
What became clear only later, on two, dark November days, was how he and Bryant would come home.
So yesterday two families paused, at different times and in different ways, on the same small patch of grass at Arlington. They said prayers and stood in silence. And they honored two very different men, a pair of dreamers.