By Spc Grant Okubo, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div., MND-B
FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq – Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, gathered here Jan. 27 to honor the memory of a fallen comrade who succumbed to combat injuries months after being wounded.
The ‘Rangers’ of 2-16 Inf. Regt. Met to pay their final respects to Spc. Duncan Charles Crookston, 19, who hailed from Denver. He was assigned to Company C as a Radio Telephone Operator.
Leaders and Soldiers spoke about the kind of man Crookston was and told the assembly of his struggles and accomplishments since enlisting in the Army June 1, 2006.
After being seriously wounded Sept. 4, Crookston succumbed to his injuries and passed away Jan. 25 at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, one day before his 20th birthday, said Lt. Col. Ralph L. Kauzlarich, from Fort Riley, Kan., and serves as battalion commander of 2-16 Inf. Regt.
“His injuries were the result of a devastating ten inch EFP (Explosively Formed Projectile) that immediately killed his squad mates … (and injured another) … who was at Duncan’s side the day of his passing,” said Kauzlarich.
Speakers at Crookston’s memorial service talked about the valiant struggles their Ranger comrade went through and how he overcame great obstacles.
Despite the loss of his legs, an arm and a hand, along with burns to approximately 60 percent of his body, Crookston continued to battle through various ailments, fevers, infections and surgeries, said Kauzlarich.
“His inner will to survive and perseverance to recover, while fully knowing the extent of his injuries, should be an inspiration to us all,” said Kauzlarich. “So what happened? Let me assure each of you tonight that Spc. Crookston did not quit. His spirit and will to live was insurmountable. Duncan’s broken body just had no more reserves to continue the fight.
“May we all take heart in the belief that he is now providing overwatch to Task Force Ranger with our other 11 fallen comrades,” continued Kauzlarich.
Crookston was considered smarter than most and had the opportunity to serve in any job field in the Army he wished, but he chose to be an Infantryman, said Kauzlarich. After speaking with Crookston’s mother, Kauzlarich found out why the young man chose to be an Infantryman.
“Duncan volunteered for a job that he considered would allow him to make the greatest contribution to the fight in Iraq,” Kauzlarich said he learned from Crookston’s mother. “This held true as he demonstrated his noted desire on hundreds of patrols and interactions with the Iraqis that we were assigned the task to secure.”
One of his ‘Ranger’ comrades read a heartfelt letter from Crookston’s mother during the ceremony.
“Words cannot express the gratitude we feel toward all those who offered support and prayer to Duncan and our Families during the past five months,” wrote Leesha Crookston. “We can take away from this experience the knowledge that good people exist in this world (and) that evil is worth fighting.
“Duncan was a proud example of a good person who did not stand by and allow (evil) to flourish by doing nothing,” the letter continued. “Duncan would have been 20 years old tomorrow. He will be forever 19 now and forever missed.”
Some of Crookston’s comrades shared their feelings about the loss of their brother in arms.
“Sometimes I wonder, if we rode together that day, would he still be here?” asked Spc. Jonathan Hughes. “Sept. 4 – that was a day of pain. The things I saw that day, I’ve never seen before.”
Hughes said he saw bravery, honor and the fear of knowing that a friend was in a truck filled with flames.
“You want to help so badly, but you’re a driver and you can’t get out, or you’re a gunner and you have to watch your sector because your fellow Soldiers are vulnerable and you feel useless,” said Hughes. “I wanted to do more, but I did my job and we got all the guys to the hospital and then it was out of our hands.”
Crookston’s awards and military decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge and the Parachutist Badge.
Crookston is survived by his devoted wife, Meaghun Crookston, and his mother and father, Leesha and Christopher Crookston.