Vt. town honors a fallen soldier
HARDWICK, Vt. — An estimated 1,400 people packed a high school gymnasium yesterday to honor Sergeant Tristan Southworth, a standout athlete and selfless soldier who was killed in Afghanistan while trying to rescue a fellow service member.
Former classmates, teammates, teachers, Vermont National Guard members, and community members lined the sidewalks in the heat to get into the funeral at Hazen Union School, where not long ago Southworth was a star basketball player.
“He was caring, he was sincere, just an all around nice guy. That’s really what I remember him for,’’ said Eric Lumsden, 21, of Hardwick, a baseball teammate, who wore his high school jersey to the service.
Southworth, 21, of Walden, died Aug. 22 while trying to rescue a fellow soldier in a prolonged gun battle with insurgents who had attacked his unit using small arms and rocket propelled grenades in Paktika Province, about 12 miles west of the border with Pakistan. Also killed was Vermont National Guard Sergeant Steven J. Deluzio, 25, of South Glastonbury, Conn. An Afghan border police officer was killed in the same battle, and another Vermont soldier was wounded and is expected to return to duty.
Southworth was promoted to sergeant posthumously and awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Combat Infantryman Badge for his service.
That didn’t surprise Darren Mayo, 23, who played high school sports with him.
“Being in the Army is something he wanted to do his whole life. Even in high school, he was one of the kids who signed up. . . . If something bad was going to happen, Tristan was the type of kid that would save someone,’’ Mayo said. “He did what he loved.’’
In a collage of his photos and writings, Southworth commended his cousin, who was awarded a medal for jumping on a grenade and saving his fellow soldiers in Vietnam. “I don’t have respect for any person higher than the respect I have for him,’’ Southworth wrote.
Southworth joined the Guard while in high school in April 2006, graduated from Hazen Union in 2007, and was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010 as a member of Alpha Company 3, 172d Infantry, a Mountain unit based in Jericho.
He was willing to do whatever was needed and do it well, said Sue Trecartin, who had Southworth in her performance arts class in his senior year. “I think that’s one of the reasons for so much of the turnout of community people, of peers. Just an all around wonderful person,’’ she said.
The school expected a large turnout. American Red Cross volunteers handed out bottles of water to mourners, some of whom lined up at the school an hour and a half before the service.
Governor Jim Douglas and Adjutant General Michael Dubie presented Southworth’s family with the Vermont Patriot Medal.
A banner hung from a building in the small town that read: “Our hero, you will never be forgotten. Rest in peace.’’
Deborah Fray, 62, was among the mourners. She is from Thomaston, Conn., but spends summers in Walden. She said it was important for her to honor Southworth and show support for his family.
“He did this for the whole country,’’ Fray said.