Soldier from Western Md. dies

Gulf war veteran killed in mortar shell attack in southern Baghdad

War In Iraq

April 10, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A 35-year-old Army soldier who grew up in Lebanon, Pa., and lived in Western Maryland was killed Monday in Iraq when a mortar shell fired by enemy troops struck his command post in southern Baghdad, according to family members.

Spc. George A. Mitchell Jr. of Rawlings in Allegany County was an Abrams tank driver in a headquarters company of the 3rd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

Mitchell, another soldier, and two journalists died when a command area was hit by an enemy shell or missile. Moments before the explosion, Mitchell had been getting coffee for two Fox television network journalists who, in exchange, had been allowing him to use their telephone equipment to call home, said his younger brother, David Mitchell of Lebanon.

Mitchell - who had fought in the 1991 Persian Gulf war as a member of the Army National Guard - was known as the "coffee connection" by the journalists, and had called his wife, Brenda, the night before he was killed, the brother said.

From what he was told, David Mitchell said his brother's command area turned into "a massive fireball with people scrambling all over the place" after the blast.

Mitchell, nicknamed "Butchy," graduated from Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania, where his parents live. He had a 10-year-old son, Christopher, in Lebanon from a second marriage, and two children with his third wife, Brenda. They made their home in Rawlings before his unit, based in Fort Stewart, Ga., shipped out late last year to Kuwait. His wife works in a doctor's office in Keyser, W.Va.

The armed forces were Mitchell's life, his brother said.

After high school, he served in the Army for about five years, got out, was in the National Guard and then went back to the Army last May 20 - his birthday.

"That was my brother's life. That was the lifestyle for him," said his brother, a musician. "It was the lifestyle he enjoyed. What makes it a little easier is that he died doing something he enjoyed."

David Mitchell followed in his brother's footsteps. Like his brother, he joined the Army and the pair were stationed with the 3rd Armored Division in Europe from 1987 to 1990. "He held my hand when I got there and showed me around."

When he was in his hometown of Lebanon, Mitchell often spent time fixing old Mustang cars with his father, George Mitchell Sr., 54, who last night could not find the words to express his feelings for his son, saying simply: "He was my hero."

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