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Family and friends use memories of Spc. Justin Coleman as a balm

HERNANDO BEACH

The photographs of Army Spc. Justin Dean Coleman covered the kitchen counter.

In one, taken when he was young, Coleman grins from ear to ear next to his father and grandfather, his namesakes. In another, he smears cake in the face of his wife, Nicole, at the couple's small wedding ceremony in 2007.

His family recalled these memories Tuesday as they planned arrangements to remember the 21-year-old soldier who died Friday in Afghanistan.

Funeral services will take place at 10 a.m. Monday at Downing Funeral Home on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, followed by a procession to Florida National Cemetery, near Bushnell, where the burial will take place at 12:30 p.m.

The family will host a visitation Sunday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the funeral home. All members of the community are invited to participate in both events.

"On his blog, he wrote he was worried he'd be forgotten," his father, Dean "Al" Coleman said in an interview at his home in Hernando Beach. "I don't want him to be forgotten."

Coleman died from a gunshot wound suffered during a firefight with insurgents outside the town of Bargh-e-Matal in Nuristan province near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The military announced his death Monday, the day after the family returned from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they watched his flag-draped coffin arrive home.

Military officials said Coleman's infantry unit was conducting security checks in a remote, mountainous region where military officials believed the Taliban held captive Army Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl. The Hailey, Idaho, soldier disappeared from his outpost a month ago and appeared in a Taliban hostage video last week. Three other unit members died in the attack.

A week before Coleman's death, he traded Internet messages with his father telling him he was leaving for a mission. The e-mail ended, "Alrighty dad, talk to you when I get back."

Coleman's family, including his wife, Nicole, sat at the dining room table Tuesday describing a son who only got in trouble when he didn't clean his room and a friend who turned into a husband.

"Those memories — that is what I have left," his father said. "I'm very proud of him."

The family's casualty assistance officer, Army Sgt. 1st Class William Kamer, stood nearby listening. A tear rolled down his left cheek.

In every death, the military dispatches an officer to assist a family but this was Kamer's first time.

He is preparing to lead another platoon into Iraq from his station at Fort Benning in Georgia. "This is the first time and hopefully the last," he said. "I told my wife that my best friend died (in the war) and this brought back a lot of those memories."

Coleman was a member of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team with the 10th Mountain Division stationed in Fort Drum, N.Y. He deployed to Afghanistan on Jan. 15.

His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal and the Combat Infantryman's Badge.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Family and friends use memories of Spc. Justin Coleman as a balm 07/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 8:34pm]
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