First burial at Arlington National Cemetery for a soldier killed in Iraq war
WASHINGTON — Capt. Russell B. Rippetoe followed his father into the Army's elite Rangers. On Thursday, Rippetoe followed generations of other American soldiers when he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
On a gray and windy day, Rippetoe, 27, became the first casualty of the Iraqi conflict to be interred at Arlington, perhaps the country's most venerated cemetery.
His father, retired Lt. Col. Joe Rippetoe, disabled in combat in Vietnam and with limited use of his right arm, looked on. He wore his Army uniform and a face wretched with sorrow.
Capt. Rippetoe, of Arvada, Colo., joined the Army in 1999. He was killed April 4 in a suicide attack at a military checkpoint northwest of Baghdad.
Rippetoe's gravesite, in a field ringed by freshly blossoming dogwood and crabapple trees, is surrounded by endless rows of simple white markers of deceased veterans of other conflicts.
It was fitting that Rippetoe be buried among fellow veterans, said Capt. Logan Stanton, a friend and fellow member of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
"He was a Ranger warrior and a Ranger brother," Stanton said. "He loved being a Ranger. He loves being there."
Rangers are a special operations, quick-strike, light-infantry force. Training is rigorous — 48 weeks a year — and most who volunteer do not make it. A number of Rangers attended Rippetoe's service. Among them was a heavily bandaged Ranger in a wheelchair, wounded in the attack that killed Rippetoe.
The attack occurred when a car drove to a checkpoint and a pregnant woman got out, apparently screaming in fear. Rippetoe and others rushed to help her. The car exploded, killing the woman, the driver and three soldiers. Rippetoe was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
He was given a military burial with full honors. A horse-drawn caisson took his flag-draped steel casket to the gravesite as an Army band softly played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
An eight-man honor guard carried the casket to the grave, a drum beating slowly in the distance. The guard stood at attention, holding the flag taut over the casket. A few dozen mourners — soldiers and civilians, generals and sergeants — shuffled their feet to keep warm against the frigid wind.
A picture frame standing on a flower-laden easel near the gravesite showed photographs of Rippetoe throughout his life: a smiling infant, a smiling schoolboy, a smiling Ranger in desert camouflage. Chaplain Lt. Col. James May, his words sometimes lost in the roar of jets taking off from a nearby airport, spoke of the enthusiasm reflected in that smile.
"Russell was the kind of man that when he joined, he joined full force," May said. "He didn't just join the soccer team, he was captain. He didn't just join the Army, he joined the Rangers."
May quoted words Rippetoe had inscribed on the back of his dog tags, from the Bible's Book of Joshua: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
A rifle salute echoed. A soldier standing amid grave markers about 100 yards away played taps on a silver bugle. The honor guard tightly folded the flag and handed it to Capt. Shawn Daniel, a Ranger and friend of Rippetoe.
Daniel, his lips quivering and his eyes blinking rapidly, knelt before Rita Rippetoe, Rippetoe's mother. He handed her the flag. He briefly faltered, recovered and said: "This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."