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Spc. William Champion kisses the dog tags of Spc. Joshua Justice Henry as he says goodbye to his friend at a memorial service Tuesday in the base chapel at Schweinfurt, Germany.
Spc. William Champion kisses the dog tags of Spc. Joshua Justice Henry as he says goodbye to his friend at a memorial service Tuesday in the base chapel at Schweinfurt, Germany. (Kristen Chandler Toth / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

If you served in the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, you couldn’t escape the sly grin and frequent razzing of Spc. Joshua Justice Henry.

“Josh could always be seen with a smirk on his face, usually thinking of his next wisecrack toward one of his buddies or whoever was in his line of fire,” said Lt. Col. Kyle McClelland, the battalion commander.

Dozens of friends gathered Tuesday in a chapel at the unit’s home base in Schweinfurt, Germany, to remember the gregarious ex-football lineman, who died Sept. 20 in a firefight in the village of Hani, Iraq.

“Most of us only have a small group that we consider friends,” said his buddy, Cpl. Aaron Schofield, in brief remarks read at the service, “but Henry was the one guy who was a friend to everyone.”

Henry grew up in Apollo, Pa., a small town near Pittsburgh. He was a center and defensive tackle on his high school’s undefeated football team in 2000, according to the Indiana Gazette, his hometown newspaper, and also excelled at baseball and swimming.

He joined the Army just two weeks before terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in southwest Pennsylvania 70 miles from his home.

After four months of training at Fort Sill, Okla., Henry landed in Schweinfurt with the 1-7 Field Artillery. In 2002, he spent six months with his unit in Kosovo, manning a howitzer and pulling force-protection duty at camps Montieth and Bondsteel. He helped his section win Top Gun honors in the battalion.

Since arriving in Iraq last February, Henry had joined more than 200 combat missions as part of Battery A’s sniper team. He also served as a gunner in an artillery platoon.

In a tribute read at Tuesday’s service, McClelland described him as “a dedicated and highly motivated warrior, an expert marksman, a sniper and one of our absolute best.”

On his last mission, Henry and several others from Battery A formed a patrol to give security at a meeting of the city council in the town of Ash Shargat, about 70 miles west of Kirkuk.

On the way home, McClelland said, the patrol ran into a fierce ambush at Hani. Between 10 and 15 insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, small arms and mortars at the convoy.

Hit first under the arm and then in both legs, McClelland said, Henry kept shooting throughout the 15-minute firefight until his battle buddies pulled him out of the line of fire and arranged for his evacuation. The unit killed at least four enemy fighters.

Henry was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Army Commendation Medal. His body was returned to the United States, where the Gazette reported he will be buried with military honors.

He is survived by his parents, Larry and Perri Henry, four sisters and two brothers.

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