Community gathers to honor, remember Sgt. Bradley Atwell
Kokomo — A crisp autumn wind billowed the row of American flags planted in front of the Kokomo Arts Pavilion Wednesday evening, where a large crowd gathered to honor and remember the life of Sgt. Bradley Atwell — a U.S. Marine and 2003 Taylor High School graduate who was killed Saturday in Afghanistan after insurgents dressed in U.S. Army uniforms infiltrated a military base.
Although the prayer vigil in Foster Park was planned and organized the day before, news about the memorial spread quickly through Facebook and word-of-mouth, drawing a throng of veterans, family friends and teachers and students from Taylor.
“It’s inspiring to see the crowd here who has wrapped their arms around this family,” said Teri Rose, a Gold Star Mother, as the vigil got underway at 6:30 p.m.
On stage, Atwell’s grandmother, cousins and other relatives stood by as four pastors prayed for healing and hope for the family.
“Watch over them, Lord, as they go through this sadness,” prayed James Davis, a pastor at First Church of the Nazarene, as the crowd stood with bowed heads. “Let them remember who he was and how he loved.”
Davis said the community must remember and honor Atwell, but also rejoice that he’s now in a better place.
“Tonight, we remember Sgt. Atwell, and the sacrifice he gave for us,” he said. “Let his name be written on our hearts. In this time of sadness, we can know who he’s with. We can celebrate that he’s with our God in heaven.”
Major Obadiah Smith, chaplain with the 434th Air Refueling Wing, spoke of the inherent risk and sacrifice that comes with serving in the military.
“As we don this uniform, we know that it could one day end up in our death,” he said. “But we stand proud, with our heads up high, knowing that it’s not just for ourselves. It’s for our family and for our country that we can truly endure.
“Let it be known that Sgt. Bradley Atwell paid a price for all of us,” he continued. “Today is a day that his legacy will go forth for the next generation to remember what it meant to have courage and stand up for his country.”
Throughout the prayer vigil, all the pastors praised Atwell and said his example should spur people to love God and their neighbors and inspire the city towards a greater good.
“Father, it just challenges us even more deeply to make our faith come alive to serve in Kokomo,” Davis prayed. “It challenges us even more to let your light shine through us.”
“May we exemplify his love, joy, courage and faith,” Major Smith said. “May the ideals which inspired him, inspire us as well.”
Bob Ladd, the Howard County veteran’s service officer, said the large turnout at the last-minute memorial was a typical display of Kokomo patriotism.
“This community has always been very patriotic, even dating back to the Civil War,” he said.
In Kokomo, he said joining the military isn’t just about getting a job, but carrying on a tradition of service and sacrifice in a community that has the highest per capita number of veterans in the state.
He said that’s probably the reason why six soldiers from Howard County have died since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.
Amy Roe, a teacher at Taylor, said she knew Atwell when he was a student. After Sept. 11, she said he was dead-set on joining the military.
That compulsion to serve is something Ladd said he witnessed throughout the community after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“I know after 9/11, there was a big surge that joined, and it wasn’t about economics for most of them,” he said. “It was about patriotism.”
After the prayer ceremony ended, Roe said the response to Atwell’s death from students at Taylor has been overwhelming. She said some made commemorative ribbons, while others started a memorial site inside the main entrance of the school.
“It’s neat to see the respect the kids have shown, and how they’ve pulled together,” she said. “The teachers that knew him have all taken it pretty hard, too. It’s difficult to think about him walking through the halls, and knowing it could have been any of these kids.”
Ladd concluded the vigil by encouraging the community to continue to support the Atwell family and the many veterans in the community.
“As you go home, please continue to keep Sgt. Atwell and his family in your prayers,” he said. “Let them know that his service to our country made him an unmistakable hero.”