Two families, linked by love, valor and pain

On the Eastern Shore, households affected by the Iraq war come together for support.

December 05, 2004|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

WORTON - Two Eastern Shore families shaken by the war in Iraq came together this weekend.

Sgt. Travis Manning IV, who was badly burned in a rocket attack in Iraq in late August, was honored at a homecoming party last night organized by Beverly Spry, whose son died in a Humvee accident in Iraq on Valentine's Day.

The death of her son, Army Pvt. Bryan Nicholas Spry, whom Manning knew, has motivated Spry to help military families in Kent County.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's editions incorrectly identified the mother of the late Army Pvt. Bryan Nicholas Spry of Kent County and incorrectly described her fund-raising efforts. Beverly Fabri and her family have raised more than $20,000 by selling stickers that say "Pray for Our Troops." The Sun regrets the error.

"You hear more about the people who died than the people wounded," Spry said yesterday before the event at a local American Legion hall. "It is just as important to honor the living."

Spry's family has sold more than $10,000 worth of "Support Our Troops" stickers, and some of that money helped Manning's family, including his mother, Lisa Solloway, and his wife, Belinda, to care for him while he recovers from burns over 40 percent of his body.

Manning arrived home Thursday night after three months of treatment at a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas. He will return to San Antonio at the end of the month to be re-evaluated.

The Manning and Spry families share bonds forged by Manning's friendship with Spry's eldest son, Mike. Both 23, they went to Kent County High School and played baseball together.

They also share a commitment to serve in the military. Bryan Spry and Manning were deployed to Iraq on the same day in January from Fort Bragg, N.C.

Eight days before the deployment, Bryan and Mike Spry and their father, Irving Spry, played golf with Manning and watched the Ravens' playoff loss to Tennessee.

"I would love for it to be for Nick," Beverly Spry said of Manning's homecoming event. "But at least it's for someone I love."

Manning spends two hours in the shower nightly, using most of that time cleaning the scars and wounds left from three skin-graft surgeries. He walks with a limp as he continues his physical therapy sessions five days a week in Chestertown.

As Manning spoke about his experiences in Iraq yesterday afternoon - sitting on a couch with his wife, who is four months pregnant - sporadic booms shook the windows and floors of his home.

The sound was from munitions tests that rippled across the Chesapeake Bay from Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"At home, you know what it is," he said. "Over there, you don't."

The explosion that wounded him occurred the night of Aug. 31. Manning had returned to his Army unit in Iraq, the 21st Military Police Company Airborne, four days earlier after a two-week break in Worton. His unit was assigned to escort convoys, patrol supply routes and secure scenes around road accidents. He and his comrades faced enemy fire often.

Manning had volunteered to go to Iraq. In April, he was assigned with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit in Fallujah, where he provided security to the mayor in what was then the stronghold of insurgency.

"I liked it. I liked being deployed," he said.

In his first assignment since returning from break, he helped to secure a truck that had been damaged by a roadside bomb. He was standing near the driver's side when he said a rocket flew past his head and struck the truck's fuel tank underneath the cab.

"I noticed my legs were going up in flames," Manning said.

He suffered third-degree burns on his wrists and legs, second-degree burns on his face and was wounded by shrapnel in his right arm.

Those responsible for the rocket attack were not caught.

Despite his injuries, he walked to a Humvee and was transported to Camp Victory in Baghdad, where he was flown to the hospital in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified base of operations for the interim Iraqi government, the U.S. and British embassies and other international organizations.

Someone told Manning at the hospital that his burns resembled a bad sunburn. Then he heard he was being flown to the United States for treatment. A little while later, he was put in an induced coma.

The military flew Manning to Germany the next day to have surgery to remove skin on his leg that was swelling, cutting off the circulation to his feet.

He woke up Sept. 7 at Brooke Army Medical Hospital in San Antonio.

During the first week after the attack on Manning, his family tried to piece together where he was and what condition he was in - whether he was still alive.

To their relief, Beverly Spry was there with support. With phone numbers to track down Manning and his condition. With money to fly his mother to San Antonio.

"I'm forever trying to thank her," Solloway said.

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