Soldiers honor ‘funny bone’ of platoon
By MARTIN KUZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 2, 2011
FORWARD OPERATING BASE ALTIMUR, Afghanistan — Spc. Richard Emmons III was known as “the funny bone of the platoon,” a young man quick with a quip who kept his fellow soldiers loose and laughing.
But on Thursday they choked up recalling the 22-year-old Emmons, of North Granby, Conn., who was killed two days earlier by a rocket-propelled grenade while driving the lead vehicle in a convoy in the eastern province of Logar.
“He could always find the humor in a situation,” said Spc. Curtis Wood of Emmons, a communications specialist with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. “He was the guy who was always smiling, who could get everyone to lighten up.”
The man known to friends as Em stood out as the unit’s resident jester, said Cpl. Justin Price, Emmons’ team leader in the personnel support detachment platoon. “You could count on him to be joking and laughing wherever we went,” said Price, of Casper, Wyo. “He saw the best of everything.”
A tribute service for Emmons took place Thursday at Forward Operating Base Altimur, where the platoon is stationed, two days after the attack that killed him and caused minor injuries to two other servicemembers and an Afghan interpreter in the same vehicle.
Emmons was behind the wheel of a mine resistant ambush protected truck traveling from FOB Altimur to a combat outpost in western Logar early Tuesday when an RPG slammed into the driver’s side. The disabled vehicle veered off the road and rolled through a ditch before ramming into a mud wall bordering a home.
Wood, a medic and one of the first soldiers to reach the truck amid enemy fire, saw that Emmons had suffered massive shrapnel wounds to his back. With the help of other soldiers, he eased Emmons out of the driver’s seat and managed to sustain his vital signs until a medevac helicopter arrived.
A short time later, the platoon learned Emmons had died at a nearby military hospital.
“We’re a family, so it’s hard,” said Wood, who lives in Fort Polk, La., where the 4th Brigade Combat Team is based. He paused, his eyes reddening. “We have to keep fighting the right fight for Emmons. He’s our fallen brother.”
During the service, soldiers offered recollections of their late comrade beside a shrine that included a framed photo of Emmons, his helmet, rifle and boots and the Bronze Star and Purple Heart he received posthumously. Their farewells were videotaped and will be sent to his family in Connecticut. The governor has ordered state and U.S. flags to fly at half-mast until Emmons’ burial.
“Em was not only a good man,” Spc. Henry Coleman of Beltsville, Md., said after the ceremony. “He was a hard worker and a good soldier who represented the best we have.”
Spc. Sophie Hailey, of Denver, was driving the vehicle behind Emmons’ when the RPG struck. She estimated the convoy was within five minutes of reaching the combat outpost.
“I’m going to be nervous the next time we’re going down that road,” she said. “I just hope he’s up there watching over us and making sure we stay safe.”