Last salute to a soldier

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The death of a Southern Illinois guardsman united the region Saturday.

ANNA, Ill. -- The body of Sgt. Brian Romines left the Anna Heights Baptist Church to the sound of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace."

The slain soldier's body arrived at its final resting place in Anna City Cemetery to a sound the 20-year-old loved in life -- the rumbling of dozens of motorcycle engines.

The funeral for the Simpson, Ill., resident was held Saturday in Anna, drawing hundreds from the surrounding area who wished to pay tribute to Southern Illinois' latest native son killed while serving in Iraq.

"It's unimaginable all the support people have shown Brian and our family," said Kristy Goolsby of Vienna, Ill., Romines' stepsister of six years. "We're all so proud of him. He was a heck of a man and a heck of a brother."

Romines, son of Randy Romines of Simpson and Melinda Astin of Dongola, Ill., was killed June 6 when his Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb, injuring two other Southern Illinois soldiers in the process. He held the rank of specialist at the time of his death, but was posthumously promoted to sergeant.

At his funeral, Romines was honored with both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

Romines joined the U.S. Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery based in Marion, Ill., right after graduating from high school in Vienna, Ill., following in the footsteps of his older brother, Randall. His tour in Iraq started in January.

Since Romines' death, people in the Southern Illinois area have shown massive support for his family. People lined interstate overpasses on the route his body traveled on its way home earlier last week.

On Saturday that spirit continued. The funeral procession was flanked from beginning to end by people standing, waving flags and showing support for a man many now call a hero for his sacrifice.

A volunteer at the church that housed Romines' funeral said 600 seats were set up for the event. The seats were filled, leaving many in the church gymnasium to stand.

A large number of those present never met Romines, but wanted to show their support for a local soldier who paid the highest price in a foreign war.

"This should be important to every living, breathing person in this country," said Tom Werner of Vienna. "Freedom has a price, and he paid that price for us."

Werner never knew Romines, but he is connected to the soldier through his patriotism and his love of riding motorcycles.

Romines was a member of a motorcycle club called The Roustabouts. Many members of the club attended the funeral, as did the members of other clubs from Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Western Kentucky. They formed a large part of the funeral procession that roared into the cemetery.

Joe Garrett and his girlfriend, Rhonda Heifner, both of Herrin, Ill., are Roustabout members. They didn't know Romines, but were visibly shaken at the funeral.

"We're here to support a hero," Garrett said, "and a fallen brother. That's what brotherhood is about -- being here when a brother falls is our duty."

Don Furman of Vienna has known Romines' family for years. For Furman, an Army veteran, attending an event such as the funeral carries mixed emotions -- pride for the sacrifice and sadness for the loss.

"I'm proud of any Army brother that's here or gone," Furman said. "There's been so many men and women that have come from this area to serve, and it's a devastating thing any time any of them fall."

Even though hundreds of people filled the Anna cemetery, the only sounds were hushed whispers and gentle sobs broken by the 21-gun salute performed by Romines' fellow soldiers in the 123rd Field Artillery. Goolsby said the support is helping the family in the grieving process, but it's far more than Romines would have ever wanted.

Romines wrote in one of his letters to his father if this happened, he wanted a simple funeral, Goolsby said. Instead Romines got a huge hero's send-off.

The family has set up a memorial fund in Romines' name to help send needed items to soldiers still in Iraq.

Unlike the grand funeral, said Goolsby, the memorial fund fits perfectly with her stepbrother's charitable character.

"He was the first to give up anything to his friends over there if they needed it," Goolsby said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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