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Michelle Turnberg, Published May 26 2012

Turnberg: Giving thanks to veterans

It was the only time I couldn’t finish reading a story while anchoring the news.

The words wouldn’t come out of my mouth; I just kept reading the line on the teleprompter: “Sgt. Bryan James Opskar of Moorhead was killed Saturday when an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle in Iraq.”

I had to leave the set.

This Bryan was my friend, who I hadn’t seen in years, and I never would again.

I met him in college. He came to Concordia to play hockey and he became good friends with the crew I hung around. He and I became fast friends.

He was often the life of the party, always upbeat, sometimes a practical joker and he had an infections giggle.

I remember walking with him to class one morning, talking about growing up in a small town. We discovered each of us had a parent who worked as a teacher. I knew that he was a great athlete and a friend to many.

Bryan died while conducting combat operations near Ar Rutbah, Iraq. He was hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel and likely died instantly.

He died on July 23, 2005.

He was only 32 years old.

His was probably the most heart-wrenching funeral I have ever attended. Trinity Lutheran in Moorhead was full. Marines in full dress blues escorted the casket to the front of the church, and his wife of only seven months spoke.

During his time in the Marines Bryan received more than a dozen military awards, including the combat action ribbon and two good conduct medals. He also was selected for a special Army training class as a master gunner.

When I was growing up, I attended many Memorial Day services in my hometown. The honored veterans looked so much older back then; they had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. I’m much older now, and I have many friends who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Memorial Day has an increasingly more personal and more profound meaning.

So every year I make it a point to remember my friend Bryan. I think back to the days I would cheer for him and the Cobber hockey team, going to the “T” and watching the Vikings on lazy Sundays.

I can still hear his laugh, and am ever more thankful to Bryan and all the brave men and women who are willing to serve in the military to protect our freedom and keep us safe.

Thank you, veterans! And thank you, Bryan. You are not forgotten.

Semper Fi.

Michelle Turnberg writes a weekly column for SheSays.