Army Cpl. Christopher Nelson led by example, re-enlisting for a second combat deployment in Iraq this year because he wanted to help make a difference and teach less experienced fellow soldiers the right way to do things.
• Photos: Memorial Service for Corporal Christopher Nelson
He was a devoted husband who married his high school sweetheart. He called his wife every week from Iraq, but never described to her the dangers he faced on patrols because he didn't want his family to worry about him.
He loved life and loved his family, including seven siblings. He had a smile "that would go on for miles" and he cannot be replaced.
These were some of ways friends and family described Nelson during a memorial service Sunday that filled the Rochester High School gymnasium with close to 300 mourners.
Nelson died in Iraq on Nov. 18, one of three soldiers killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives as the soldiers handed out toys and other gifts to children in the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
He was 22 years old.
"He's going to definitely be missed," Nelson's father, John Nelson, who works in a sawmill in Morton, said after Sunday's service. "No way to fill that void."
Remembering a friend
Robert Krouse, 22, showed off a new tattoo below his shoulder that reads, "In loving memory" and displays Nelson's dogtags. Krouse said he befriended Nelson while managing Rochester's high school football team. Nelson played linebacker.
Nelson's wife, Angela, 20, spoke about meeting her future husband when she was a sophomore at RHS. Angela's twin sister, Andrea, reminded Angela about how they met.
"You were walking in the commons one day, and you were like, 'he's cute,' " Andrea said.
Nelson enlisted in the Army in January 2004, shortly after graduating from high school. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Battalion of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) based at Fort Lewis.
John Nelson and Angela Nelson spoke of their constant worry for Chris during both of his combat deployments. On the night before his son left for his last combat assignment in August, John Nelson said he reminded his son alone about staying out of harm's way.
"He'd say 'Dad, don't worry about it,' " John Nelson said, recounting the story. "It never crossed his mind."
1st Lt. Anthony Messenger, who led Nelson's platoon until he was injured by stepping on an improvised explosive device on Oct. 20, spoke about how soldiers looked up to Nelson for his combat experience and leadership. They also simply enjoyed Nelson's friendship, Messenger said.
Excerpts of letters from the soldiers in Nelson's platoon were read. The soldiers wrote about their nickname for Nelson, "Rooster," from the Alice In Chains song he constantly played, and of playing dominos.
They also spoke about Nelson's dreams of starting a family.
"Chris was a soldier with leadership qualities some NCOs struggle to obtain and made them part of his daily life," wrote Cpl. Ian Bennett, who shared a platoon with Nelson.
Spc. Daniel Garcia, who drives a Stryker in Nelson's platoon, wrote:
"Chris, as I liked to say was the rising star in the platoon. Chris was always full of knowledge and experience and was always willing to help a fellow soldier or friend. I always enjoyed Chris's company along with his stories — he always had great stories. Since this was Chris's second deployment, Chris was always someone to look up to. Chris was a seasoned soldier and always had good advice to help me through things. Chris was also a movie freak, and would always stop by my bunk and give me the latest, greatest on the newest movies, then throw me a copy to borrow. I'll miss our talks about nothing and talks about everything. Chris will be missed. Chris Nelson was my friend, my brother, my comrade."
Jeremy Pawloski is a reporter for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.