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Gordonville soldier killed in Iraq volunteered second tour to give others a break
Bradley Skelton had already served one dangerous tour in Iraq in 2004 and part of 2005, then retired from the Missouri Army National Guard after a 23-year career. But last year he volunteered to go again because he thought someone with more to lose might be better off staying home.
"He told me he wanted to give someone else a break who was married and had a family," said his uncle, Charles Skelton.
Sgt. Bradley Skelton, 40, of Gordonville was killed in Iraq on Wednesday when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device, the Missouri National Guard said. He was killed in Baghdad, where he was serving with the Missouri National Guard's 1138th Engineer Battalion.
The 1138th is assigned to clear roads of IEDs and to maintain traffic flow. "He was running the roads," his uncle said. "You know what that means."
Skelton was one of 100 members of the battalion deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom last July. The 1138th is based in Farmington. Another member of the battalion, Matthew Straughter, 27, of Belleville, Ill., died in Baghdad on Jan. 31.
Skelton grew up in Gordonville and graduated from Jackson High School. His parents, Harold and Dorothy Skelton, are deceased. His sister, Carmen Robinson, and her family live near Sikeston. Charles and his wife Carrie Skelton also live in Gordonville. Brad Skelton's aunt, Evelyn Dake, resides in Jackson.
He was a hunter and fisherman who collected arrowheads and loved the military. "Rambrad" was one of his nicknames. "God bless him," said longtime friend Brian McCallister. "He died doing exactly what he wanted to do."
McCallister has known Skelton for 38 years. As young boys they lived down the street from each other in Gordonville. "He was rambunctious," McCallister said. "He was always available to do something with."
Telling his three daughters about his friend's death was difficult, he said. "It's been pretty rough no matter who I told, the way he touched people. You just can't find anyone to speak an ill word about him."
Skelton joined the Missouri Army National Guard while a senior in high school in 1984. He came out of retirement because he wanted to serve with close friends returning for a second tour, the Guard said.
In a news release, Maj. Gen. King Sidwell, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, said he knew Skelton personally. "I am saddened beyond words about the loss of Sgt. Skelton," he said.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said the nation owes a great debt to the sergeant and his family. "My thoughts and prayers are with Sgt. Skelton's family during this troubled time," she said.
Charles Skelton said his nephew was planning a trip to Australia on his next leave and expected his tour to end later this year. He had worked for a water softener company and more recently at the Elfrink Transportation terminal.
Skelton was not married and had no children. He was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Gordonville and the Gordonville Fire Department. "He was a good guy, outspoken, always there to help anybody, as much with the fire department as he was in the service," fire chief Mark Koerber said. "He would do anything anyone would ask him to do."
In 1999 he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Gordonville Board of Trustees.
When in town, Skelton was a regular at the Gordonville Grill. "He was a part of this community, and we are a small community," co-owner Amy Hancock said. "It impacted everyone a lot."
Skelton was a happy man who was always joking, Hancock said. Wednesday night, a photo album containing photos of his last tour was passed around the restaurant. "We must have had 20 to 30 people in here drinking Stag," Hancock said. "He loved Stag."
Kent Koch, another friend since boyhood, said he, McCallister and other friends were just finishing a remodeling job on Skelton's house in anticipation of his return from Iraq. "I'm really going to miss him," Koch said. "He was like a brother to me."
He said Skelton loved handing out candy to the children in the Iraqi neighborhoods and seeing their eyes light up because they had so little. "A person couldn't have talked him into not going this last time," Koch said. "He really believed in what he was doing."
Funeral arrangements are pending. Charles Skelton expects services will take place in a week to 10 days.
Aaron Eisenhauer contributed to this report.
335-6611, extension 137