At his Moorhead home, fallen Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Nelson is memorialized with a striking life-size photo on a vinyl banner given to his survivors on Friday.
Nelson, killed this week at age 22 in Iraq, is shown in full battle dress in Afghanistan, where he had served earlier with the 82nd Airborne Division.
"You will never be forgotten," says the banner on the brick front of the house.
His family learned Wednesday evening that Nelson had been killed that morning in a small town near Tikrit while on a foot patrol. They had no other details, said a family friend, Todd Taylor. On his third tour in Iraq, he was the 63rd troop with strong Minnesota ties to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nelson planned to end his five-year infantry enlistment next spring and study for an engineering degree.
"Everybody who knows Andrew will tell you how kind he was," said Taylor, who spoke on behalf of Andrew's mother, Suzanne Nelson, and his sister, Jessica. "A very gentle person, a person concerned about others and their feelings. Just a joy to be around."
Andrew Nelson's late father, his grandfather and step-siblings had also served in the armed forces. Andrew was 17 and a junior at Shanley High School in Fargo, N.D., when he persuaded his mother to sign for him so he could enlist. He would have enlisted at 18 anyway, he had told her.
"It's a very patriotic family, obviously, and he thought it was his duty to go into the military," Taylor said.
It was Nelson's nature to serve, from volunteer work for his confirmation class to public service as an Eagle Scout.
He never said no to helping someone, said his uncle Greg Pribula of Alvarado, Minn.
Friday evening, Andrew's family shared stories of his life with the many who came with condolences. People spoke of the interest he took in others, while shying away from discussing himself.
Andrew had been the "man of the house" since his father, Dan Nelson, died of cancer in 1999, Taylor said.
A man who got things done
"Andrew was an incredible young man," said Taylor. "He was only 22 years old but he was so mature for his age. He was the type of young man who when he made up his mind to do something, he was going to do it."
As a boy, Andrew attended St. Joseph Catholic School in Moorhead and was an altar server at St. Joseph's Church.
"I can't remember a time when Andrew wasn't there," said his confirmation teacher, Joe Stadstad. "If I needed at least one or two people, I could count on him to be there."
His scout master, Ron Schneider, called Andrew an "all-American boy" who stood out from age 11 as a leader.
"You're talking about your Norman Rockwell Boy Scout, literally," Schneider said. "The guy with the tucked-in shirt, the black hair, put together extremely well. Just a good-looking, sharp, smart kid."
Pribula recalled the time that Andrew came to say goodbye before heading to Iraq. The uncle stopped work in his potato field and they embraced, then wrestled to the ground. The uncle won, but Andrew looked up and quipped: "There is one advantage to weight."
His uncle advised him to save $50,000 in the service for a business or house. When he died, Andrew had saved $44,000.
Friday night, the football team at Shanley High dedicated its game to Andrew.
Services are pending.
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