May 10, 2004: Memories of N.D. guardsmen: They were kind, selfless

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2011 - 1:00 PM

A day after learning that two North Dakota National Guardsmen died from injuries suffered in Iraq, friends and relatives recalled the two men as selfless and kind soldiers who loved flying planes
and playing baseball.

Their deaths, both reported to their families Saturday, were the first and second recorded in Iraq for the National Guard's 141st Engineer Combat Battalion, based in Valley City, which has about 400 soldiers stationed in Iraq.

The death of Specialist Philip Brown, 21, came as a blow to his tight-knit home town of Jamestown, where the local baseball field is named after his grandfather, and Brown was known as an upbeat
friend.

"I guess the word that probably would best describe him is happy," said his cousin, Tessa Gould, of Sioux Falls, S.D. "He was just that sort of personality that everyone was drawn to."

Brown's fifth-grade basketball teammates, a group who became lifelong friends, will be pallbearers at his funeral.

He graduated from high school in 2001. He was studying for a business administration degree at Jamestown College and had joined the National Guard in the summer of 2001.

Brown was severely injured while on a walking patrol, losing his legs and suffering chest injuries, according to the National Guard. He died from his injuries early Saturday. His body was back on
American soil by Sunday afternoon.

The last time she talked to her grandson, Mirt Brown said he asked about the swimming pool at her home.

"I had 10 grandchildren," Brown said. "Each one has an attribute that the next one does not have. He was so positive. I think of him, and it's thumbs up."

"He made everything look like it was great. He never complained."

Philip grew up playing baseball at the stadium named for his grandfather, and sometimes sold concessions at his parents' stadium stand, Mirt Brown said.

His grandfather served as referee years ago when the Harlem Globetrotters played in Jamestown. Brown, a basketball, baseball and football player in high school, had been chosen recently to play against the Globetrotters at a game scheduled for the troops in Iraq. The matchup had been delayed recently due to the worsening climate. "When the call came yesterday [Saturday] that he had lost both of his legs, I know this sounds strange, but my first thought was, `Oh, now he's not going to get to play against the Globetrotters,' " said Mirt Brown.

An hour later, the family learned from a second phone call that he had died.

A funeral date has not yet been chosen, according to family and a National Guard official.

The final months of Philip Brown's life were typical in some ways, said his grandmother.

She learned recently that he tried to give away a trip home that he had won from the National Guard in a lottery system. His high-ranking lottery ticket meant that he would be allowed to fly back to North Dakota for 10 days to two weeks to visit his family over the July 4th holiday; he tried to give that to another soldier in his company who had children, she learned. National Guard procedures prohibited soldiers from switching their leave, however.

And in a typically kind gesture for his friends, Philip Brown took a forklift to the store when he learned that he could get thirst-quenching Gatorade at a store for U.S. soldiers at a fraction of its normal cost.

"He got every case that they had and took it back for the buddies at the camp," she said.

`He put himself last'

A small-aircraft pilot who had a passion for scuba diving, James Holmes was a friend to his co-workers at Valley Petroleum Equipment in Grand Forks, where he had worked for the past two years. He lived in East Grand Forks.

Tim Marshall said Holmes helped him set up a surprise anniversary for his wife, allowing Marshall to use his computer and credit card to make reservations at a hotel in Winnipeg that Holmes knew of.

"He was always willing to help," Marshall said. "He put himself last. He put everybody else first."

Specialist Holmes suffered shrapnel wounds a week ago when his vehicle patrol set off a roadside bomb. He died Saturday at a hospital in Germany.

A history buff who graduated from high school and college in Arizona before moving to North Dakota to attend flight school, Holmes lent a book on Greek mythology to co-worker Marshall before he left for Iraq. When Marshall forgot to return it shortly before Holmes left for the war, Holmes told him to keep it. He would get it when he came back.

"When I got the phone call Saturday morning that he had passed away I wrote in it `In Memory of James Holmes' and the date. So I'll remember him, not like I'll forget."

Matt McKinney is at mmckinney@startribune.com.

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