Honoring the life of a fallen hero

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Honors presented Democrat Photo Teresa Stark, right, accepted the honors of Bronze Star, Purple Heart, NATO and Operation enduring Freedom that were posthumously awarded to her son, Christopher Stark, from CG Smith, on behalf of the United States Army.

"It's just another day at the office, Mom, and I love my job."

Those were some of the last words spoken by Army Specialist Christopher Glenn Stark in a phone call to his mother, Teresa Stark, one week before he was killed in action in COP Tangi, Afghanistan, on Feb. 28. He was 22.

Stark served with the 63rd Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Battalion 20th Support Command. Stark was one of the few sent out to locate and destroy improvised explosive ordinance (IEDs) placed along the roadways in war zones. Stark was doing the job he loved in support of Operation Enduring Freedom when he was mortally wounded when enemy forces attacked his unit. Staff Sgt. Chauncy Mays, of Cookeville, Texas, was also killed in the attack.

A public service for Stark was held Saturday at Jolly Mill Park, west of Monett. An estimated 300 Patriot Guard riders turned out to shield the family, friends and loved ones from the threat of possible protestors. Also on hand were law enforcement officials from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Newton County Sheriff's Department, Monett Police Department and Lawrence County Sheriff's Department, among others.

Members of the Patriot Guard stood shoulder to shoulder with students from the Junior ROTC corps from Southwest Area Career Center in Monett. Flags were unfurled and waving in the breeze, forming a patriotic archway through which the hearse passed, carrying the fallen soldier to lie at the foot of a stage, surrounded by flowers and a memorial containing a pair of boots, a helmet, a rifle and Stark's dog tags.

Stark was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, as well as medals from NATO and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Junior ROTC instructor John Marbut spoke of Stark, saying he was one of the first to join the program when it started in Monett. He recalled Stark's amazing attitude and serious demeanor, as well as his focus on joining the military.

Stark also loved the outdoors, fishing and feeding the deer with his grandparents. Stark's uncle, Greg Brown, told stories of the boys playing Xbox into the early morning hours talking about fast cars and other interests.

A prayer recorded by Teresa Stark was played, thanking God for allowing her to be mother to this young man and his brother, expressing her faith that Stark was now with other family members who had died before him, including his father, the late Jeffrey Allen Stark. She recalled how very much her son loved his job and loved his life.

As the service concluded, a line of vehicles stretched out for over a mile as family and friends followed the hearse to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Monett. Pockets of community members, American flags waving, lined areas of the route, saluting, holding hands to hearts, all honoring Monett's fallen soldier.

Stark was buried with full military honors, including a gun salute and a fly over by a trio of helicopters.

As ceremonies concluded at the cemetery, Teresa Stark was presented with the flag that had draped her son's coffin on its journey from Afghanistan to its final resting place in Monett. She stood proudly before the casket and gave her son a final salute. His brothers in arms, members of the EOD team, placed tokens atop the casket to be enclosed in the vault, a testimony of their respect and affection for the fallen soldier.

A final prayer concluded the event, but as people drifted toward their cars, reflecting on the events of the day, the first thing that may have gone through their minds was the few final words Stark spoke to his mother a mere week before, as he was preparing for another work day and risking his life for his friends, neighbors and country.

"It's just another day at the office, Mom, and I love my job."

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