Accident kills soldier, a `fiery' competitor

Crofton resident, 29, father of three, dies in Afghanistan when Humvee rolls into ditch

October 04, 2005|By NICOLE FULLER AND ANNIE LINSKEY | NICOLE FULLER AND ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTERS

An Anne Arundel County high school sports star and father of three is the latest Maryland soldier to die in Afghanistan, the Defense Department announced yesterday.

Sgt. 1st Class James J. Stoddard Jr., 29, of Crofton was killed when the Humvee he was riding in rolled into a ditch in Kandahar, according to the Pentagon and his wife, Amy Stoddard, who said she was told that six others in the vehicle survived the accident.

While at Arundel High School, Sergeant Stoddard was known for his curve balls on the pitching mound in baseball and for his play as a wide receiver on the school's football team.

In his senior year, the 1994 graduate helped the school's baseball team to the state championship and the football team to an 8-3 record.

"He was fiery," said retired head football coach Bill Zucco. "He got on the field and he wasn't afraid to go up against kids who were tougher than him."

Sergeant Stoddard, who was raised in Crofton, brought that intensity to his military career, serving multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and following in the footsteps of his late father and uncle, both servicemen, his family said last night.

"He never complained," said Amy Stoddard, 30, a nurse at University Specialty Hospital. "He knew it was his job. But he hated leaving his kids."

Yesterday, their children - daughters Megan, 13, and Makenzie, 13 months, and son James J. III, 4, - were at their grandmother's Crofton townhouse with neighbors, family members and Sergeant Stoddard's military colleagues to mourn the soldier known as Jamie.

"My heart has been ripped out of my chest and stomped on," said his mother, Kathleen Stoddard. Amy Stoddard and the children have been living in his mother's Crofton home.

After high school, Sergeant Stoddard attended college at Anne Arundel Community College and on the Eastern Shore. Feeling directionless, and after conferring with his uncle, Army Gen. Frank Kearney, he joined the military, his mother said.

He enlisted eight years ago, serving with the 82nd Airborne based at Fort Bragg, N.C., as a platoon sergeant. He was in his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, his mother said.

Born in the Hudson Valley in New York, Sergeant Stoddard moved to Maryland with his family when he was about 8 but remained a hard-core New York Mets baseball fan.

He was a pitcher and third baseman on Arundel High's baseball team and a wide receiver on the football team, earning the respect of teammates and coaches for his work ethic and athletic ability, said Bernie Walter, head baseball coach and athletic director at the school.

"He was a great competitor," Mr. Walter said. "And really a great boy with great values. He gave you his hardest. You never had any doubt how hard he wanted to play."

When his dreams of a professional football career didn't pan out, joining the military seemed natural. Sergeant Stoddard's father, James J. Stoddard Sr., who died last year of heart failure, was a private in the Army from May 1965 to May 1970 and served in Vietnam.

"Jamie gave his life so a new nation could move forward, said General Kearney, commander of special operations, Command Central in Tampa, Fla., who was with the family last night.

Viewing hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Beall Funeral Home, 6512 Crain Highway in Bowie.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 1283 Odenton Road in Odenton, followed by interment at 2 p.m. at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Sergeant Stoddard is also survived by two sisters, Bridgett Anne Stoddard of Crofton and Katherine E. Hoffman of Erie, Pa.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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