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Final Journey
of a Fallen Hero

February 20, 2009

Joshua Allen Ward

October 23, 1978 - February 9, 2009

Community Mourns, Honors Sgt. Ward

By Heather Menzies

Friends, family and grateful Americans packed Bay City's First Baptist Church at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, to say a final farewell to a fallen great American hero Sgt. Joshua Ward.

Testimonials from those whose lives had been touched by Josh spoke volumes about the man who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Josh's best friend Brian Grumbler was the first to stand up for his fallen comrade and share his memories and feelings for Josh.

"Josh was my best friend for the past four years," said Grumbler.

"There isn't anything I can say or anything I can do to command a fraction of the respect I owe Joshua."

"But what I can do is tell you a little bit about Joshua outside of his comfort zone here with you and how much he meant to myself and all of his other army brothers," he said.

Grumbler told of how friendly and accepting Josh was to him as a new guy to the guard duty station when he first arrived at Fort Hood.

"Everyone knows when you first get to your duty station they treat you like you have leprosy for the first three to four months," said Grumbler.

"But the first day I got there, I walked in as cocky as I could be and Josh looked at me and said, 'Hey dude, we drive the same truck'," he said.

Grumbler said Josh's acceptance of him on the first day caused everyone else to think of him "as one of the boys."

"So from that day forward we were frick and frack and we were inseparable and we were best friends," Grumbler said.

He went on to tell how Josh displayed an incredible act of heroism to rescue him and other soldiers from the wreckage of a tank explosion.

"My tank was destroyed April 27, 2007," he said.

"It was a bad experience but I just want to tell you a little bit about Josh that day and how I'll never forget that day because of him."

"We were out on patrol when we ran over (explosives) and it blew me out of my tank," he explained.

Grumbler explained how the other crewmembers inside the tank were also blown out of the tank and some were injured.

"I looked back to throw my hands up to tell people to come and all I can remember is it being like something out of a Vietnam movie because all I saw was a swirl of smoke and Josh Ward running the fastest I've ever seen a person run towards me and he was the only one," he said.

Grumbler explained how Josh pulled everyone to safety.

"Not only did he do that but when he got there he ran the entire (medical evacuation) show - he was the man - and I'll never forget it," he said.

Before Grumbler sat down, he spoke directly to Josh's sons Joshua Allen Ward, Jr., 9, and Zane Tyler Ward, 7.

"Now Josh and Zane, I want you to look at me right now and I want you to listen to me," he said.

"I was the guy that served with your father and I want you to wear that name proudly for the rest of your life."

"I want you to know, not only how much of a hero he was to you and how much of a hero he was to this country, but he was my hero," he said.

"I want you to be a hero and I want you to be awesome for him."

Josh's closest friends and family weren't the only ones to stand and tell of the impact he had on their life.

Dana Watkins never met or even spoke to Josh but she had an incredible story to share about how he impacted the world with his life.

Watkins told how, as a Girl Scout leader, she sold hundreds of boxes of cookies to Josh's aunts who sent them to them to him and he shared with his friends.

"So, I took an interest in that," said Watkins.

"I thought that would be neat to do."

Watkins told how Josh had told his aunt to encourage her to pick a soldier in Afghanistan to send the cookies to.

"At that time the war in Afghanistan had been put on the back burner and Iraq was very much at the forefront of our minds at the time," she recalled.

"He said, pick a soldier in Afganistan because they need your support. They need it so much more than we do."

Watkins said that she followed Josh's suggestion and became very good friends with some of the soldiers there who talked about the need Afganistan children's have for education.

"They told me that those kids really needed hopes and dreams because children with hopes and dreams don't grow up to be terrorists," she said.

"The only way to give them that was through education."

Watkins went on to explain how her partnership with those soldiers as a teacher has aided 250,000 children all over the world in getting school supplies and will soon open their sixth school worldwide.

"I never knew Joshua and I never spoke to Joshua but Joshua spoke to me," said Watkins.

"He never knew that and I wish I could have told him that."

Two other army brothers, his youngest blood brother, his uncle, his sister and a childhood friend also told of their fondest memories and some of the things they will miss most about Josh.

Rev. Ralph Howard, Josh's youth minister and close friend, conducted the service.

Howard told of how close he was to Josh and how sometimes it seemed as if Josh was a younger brother than just one of the students in his youth group.

Howard spoke of Josh's Christian faith and how much he loved his family, friends and had an incredible passion to live life fully.

Howard is currently a Baptist minister in Tennessee and shared a powerful story of his plane ride to say a last goodbye to Josh.

"I sat on the plane coming down here from Tennessee and the lady sitting beside me must have felt compassion for me because I was bawling like a little schoolgirl," he said.

"She told me she had heard the news and she said, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm meeting someone who has been touched by his life,'" he relayed.

"And I said, 'Monday when it happened; every American was touched by his life.'"

"He died as a hero for my freedom and though he was like a little brother, he's a heck of a man."

Before the ceremony was over, a representative from the Blue Star Mothers of America, military mothers, presented Josh's parents, sons, and fiancÚ with a Gold Star to symbolize the loss they suffer in Josh's ultimate sacrifice.

Just before the service began, a long line of law enforcement officers and emergency volunteers filed through to salute the casket and give their love to Josh's family.

The funeral service included one musical selection, "Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone," performed by Howard who also read "Fallen Soldiers," a poem in memory of Josh.

Josh's family and loved ones in attendance were: parents John and Patricia Ward; sons Joshua Allen Ward, Jr. and Zane Tyler Ward and their mother Misty Ward; sister Brandi Ward; brothers Johnny Ward, Jr., Ben Ward, and Eric Ward; and fiancÚ Deonna Gunderson with unborn son Alexander John Ward.

The Brazoria County Calvary, motorcycle patriot guard, made an incredible showing to escort the Ward family to the funeral and lead the way for the funeral procession to make the journey back to the Baker Funeral Home in West Columbia.

Interment will take place at 1 p.m. on Sat. Feb. 21, at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. The public is invited to attend.

Bay City Tribune, Sunday, February 22, 2009