published Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Dalton's 1st Iraq war casualty remembered: Army friends come from all over to honor Sgt. Marshall Edgerton

  • photo
    Sgt. Marshall Edgerton was Dalton, Ga.'s first death in the Iraq war in 2003. On Saturday, Edgerton's Army buddies and his family held a reunion on the 10th anniversary .
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Donations for Edgerton family

Edgerton's Army friends set up an online donation account to benefit the 17- and 12-year-old children of Marshall and Amy Edgerton. It's a PayPal account connected to the following email address: marshall.edgerton.memorial@gmail.com.

DALTON, Ga. — At Sgt. Marshall Edgerton's headstone Saturday morning, here they came, car by car.

Edgerton's Army buddies: Around 10 of them came from all over the country to be at Colonial Hills Memorial Park Cemetery, in northwest Dalton, Ga., on the 10th anniversary of Edgerton's death in Iraq.

Edgerton, a member of Company A, 82nd Signal Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, N.C., was killed in Ramadi on Dec. 11, 2003. He was one of thousands of American soldiers in the first deployments to Iraq. And he is one of thousands who came home in a casket.

The American camp where Edgerton was stationed was attacked with an improvised explosive device, or IED. Edgerton was on guard duty and had to escort incoming Iraqi personnel into the camp. He realized something wasn't right.

The Iraqi soldiers had put an IED in the gas tank of their truck. Edgerton realized they intended to blow up the camp, and he began to yell for Americans to clear out.

"He saved all the soldiers that were there in that vicinity," said Glenda East, Edgerton's mother.

Somehow, in Army records, she was listed as deceased. She was not the first to get the call that Edgerton had been killed in action. Her neighbors saw it in the news before she knew anything. Then the word found its way to her.

"That was the worst day of my life," she said. "I was devastated. I was angry for a long time."

But time and the Lord have helped her, she said.

"That's part of life, and that's the path he chose to walk."

Marshall -- Dalton's first casualty in the conflict -- was laid to rest on Dec. 23, 2003. His best friends and new little family -- his wife, Amy, and their two youngsters -- were there.

His funeral was the last time the old Army friends were together. Most of them were younger -- 22, 23 and 24 -- when Edgerton was killed. He was 27.

"I really looked up to him," said Derick Burton, a fellow soldier who got Saturday's memorial and reunion together.

Now he and most of the others have families and lives of their own, like Edgerton did when he died.

"We feel like old men now," said Tim White, who knew Edgerton even before Iraq.

He and the others met up Friday night at a hotel near the cemetery.

"It was like the best family reunion you can think of," White said. "It's weird. It was like we just saw each other a week ago. We just picked right back up where we left off."

Including brotherly joking. Age has lent itself to balding and weight jokes.

It was like the old days, when they all lived at Fort Bragg, said Amy, Edgerton's wife.

"It brings back a lot of memories," she said.

Good and bad.

"It's hard because you catch yourself looking around expecting Marshall to be there, because he's supposed to be with them."

During the memorial service at Edgerton's grave, his former commanding officer stepped up and broke a sad silence by saying a few words.

"He was a good kid, that's what I used to say," said Bruce Smith, former first sergeant. He stood over Edgerton's grave in a cold wind, facing many teary eyes.

"To me, all of them were kids," he said.

But death is part of the job sometimes.

"We all know when we put on the uniform that things can happen. Unfortunately, it happened to one of our best," Smith said.

A heartbreaking lineup of eulogies followed.

"I wish there was something I could have done," said Matt Russel, the only one of the group still in the service. He wore a beret donned only twice, in 2003 at Marshall's funeral and then again Saturday.

White talked about "deep regret by all of us that none of us could change the events that happened."

Edgerton's mother appreciates the sentiment but wishes the men could let her boy's death go.

"I don't hold anything against these boys," she said. "They didn't have anything to do with Marshall's death."

She feels sorry for them, more than anything, because they knew the war firsthand, and some of them saw Marshall after the IED explosion. She's never asked for any details about that. She doesn't want to know.

She just wants her son's friends to know what an honor it was for them to stop their lives and travel -- some of them through an ice storm -- for Saturday's memorial.

"Lord, it's a blessing for them to be here," Glenda said. "That they'd come all this way from every direction to be here."

They would stop her right there.

This is what brothers do.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 as a region business reporter. He is a native of Dayton, Tenn., located 35 miles north of Chattanooga, and he is a fifth-generation Dayton native. Alex came to the Times Free Press as an editorial intern in July 2013. He was previously a correspondent at The Herald-News, located in Dayton, through college and editor-in-chief of the Triangle, Bryan College's student-led media group. Alex was ...

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