ST. LOUIS -- A 21-year-old from Caruthersville and a 21-year-old from Springfield were among 14 U.S. soldiers who were killed Wednesday when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a nighttime mission in northern Iraq.
Ricky Bell was due to come home on leave Sept. 13, said his aunt, Glenda Overbey. He had been in Iraq since June, where he turned 21 on June 30.
He is survived by his parents, Ricky and Janice Bell, a sister and brother, all of Caruthersville in the Bootheel.
Overbey said military representatives delivered the news Wednesday morning at the parents' workplaces.
Jessy Pollard, a 2003 graduate of Glendale High School in Springfield, died doing what he wanted to do, Pollard's stepfather, Alan Dewitt, told the Springfield News-Leader.
"He was fighting for our American freedoms that we enjoy," Dewitt said. "After high school, he really got into wanting to do that. He prayed about it a lot before he joined."
Pollard is survived by his mother, Patti Jo Dewitt, and a sister.
His aunt, Sandy Kaufman, said her nephew had been excited to pursue a military career.
"He just really embraced it," she said. "He'd come home and regale us with stories about jumping out of planes at night."
Bell graduated from Caruthersville High School in 2005 and immediately joined the military. He was based in Seattle.
The UH-60 helicopter went down before dawn in the Tamim province that surrounds Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, according to a military spokesman in northern Iraq.
The Black Hawk was one of two helicopters that had just picked up troops after a mission when it crashed. The four crew members and 10 passengers aboard were assigned to Task Force Lightning.
Overbey said Bell's unit was the Dark Horse Warriors, not Task Force Lightning.
"It wasn't his unit," she said. "We don't quite understand."
J.J. Bullington, a Caruthersville middle school principal, said she has known Bell since he was a child.
"I knew him when he was a little boy," she said. "I taught him swimming. This is a real small community of about 7,000. Everybody knows each other."
Overbey said Bell's body is not expected to return to Missouri until the middle of next week.