Slain soldier mourned and honored at service

Sgt. 1st Class James Stoddard Jr. remembered as a good friend, `outstanding man'


In a light but steady rain, 12 members of Sgt. 1st Class James Stoddard Jr.'s battalion stood at attention as his coffin was transported from a hearse to the vestibule of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Odenton. With bagpipes sounding, two soldiers removed the flag that had been draped over the simple casket, folded it in the customary triangular fashion and saluted.

Stoddard, 29, of Crofton, was killed Sept. 30 while serving in Afghanistan after his Humvee rolled into a ditch. His death came during a third tour of duty after deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and just over a year after his father, James Stoddard Sr., was memorialized and buried at the same parish in June 2004.

In a nearly two-hour service yesterday that offered mourners the opportunity to share their memories and impressions of Stoddard, a portrait emerged of a young soldier, husband and father of three who protected and touched those around him with his kindness, warm sense of humor and crushing yet affectionate bear hug.

"He gave me the most powerful hug I've ever had in my life," one boyhood friend recounted. "And my father's a big man."

Among the more than 150 people at the service were those who knew Stoddard as Jamie, a schoolboy in Anne Arundel County, and those who worked with him at Kaufmann's Tavern in Gambrills, where he was renowned for his jovial nature and ever-present smile. Several cousins and friends referred to him as a brother.

Kevin Hamlin, 26, a cousin, recalled childhood memories of piling into the "Stoddard station wagon" and driving to Fort Meade to watch Fourth of July fireworks, or to Sandy Point for the annual seafood festival.

"He taught me everything a guy needed to know, both good and bad," Hamlin said.

Hamlin said Stoddard was someone he always knew he could count on.

"This isn't something that the Army taught him," he said. "It started with his mom and dad."

Another cousin, John Kearney, read from a letter that Stoddard wrote to his late father from Afghanistan on June 8, the one-year anniversary of the elder Stoddard's death. In the letter, Stoddard expressed concern for the family that his tour of duty had separated him from, and stated that he had struggled to deal with his father's death. He said he looked forward their reunion, but that he had much to do in life first.

Seated in two pews, members of Stoddard's 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment hung their heads, often choking back tears as they related stories of their service together.

"They've always told me that you don't have to be the brightest guy, but if you surround yourself with bright people, then you will shine," said 1st Sgt. Bruce Myers. "By having Jamie in my squadron, I shined. And I shined very brightly because of that."

"He was a man who loved his family, and he respected the hell out of his crew," Myers said. "We'll shed a lot of tears, but the memories that we have of him will never go away. We definitely lost an outstanding man, a good husband, a good father, a good son."

After the service, Stoddard's body was taken to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where he was buried with full military honors.

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