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Soldier killed in Iraq buried in Houston

Houston Chronicle (12/17/2003)

By Ruth Rendon

Clutching flags and shivering, schoolchildren lined the streets of southeast Houston to watch a hearse and funeral procession wind its way to the cemetery where U.S. Army Spc. Ray Joseph Hutchinson was buried Tuesday.

Hutchinson of League City was killed Dec. 7 while serving in Iraq.

The funeral at Sagemont Church, steeped in patriotism, brought together 700 people -- friends and strangers, young and old -- to honor the 20-year-old who had been in the Army less than two years.

Afterward, American flags lined the route to the cemetery.

"We saw joy in the patriotism of this country," Hutchinson's father, Michael, said later. " We saw what makes this country good. We saw little kids that could barely stand up waving those flags and we saw veterans that have long since retired honoring our son but at the same time honoring all of our military."

Hutchinson died while returning from a security patrol when his Humvee drove over a handmade explosive device that was detonated by remote control in Mosul, Iraq. At the time, he was on a list to be promoted. He received that promotion posthumously, from private 1st class to specialist.

During Tuesday's funeral service, Michael and his wife, Deborah, were presented with awards their son earned: the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and a combat infantry badge.

Pastor John D. Morgan said his message was that Hutchinson offered to join the Army and to set a people free and at the same time protect his homeland.

Morgan said when U.S. servicemen captured Saddam Hussein over the weekend he could envision Hutchinson jumping for joy.

"Michael and Deborah, you did a good job," he said. "Then the Army helped you finish it off to help make your fine son a great man."

Hutchinson's silver casket draped in an American flag was centered at the church's altar. On one side stood an easel with a large photo of Hutchinson in his Army uniform. On a nearby pedestal was a pair of black combat boots with a rifle inside one boot and a camouflage helmet resting on the rifle.

The church altar was adorned with floral arrangements, many bearing red, white and blue flowers.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land praised Hutchinson's military duty.

"Ray Joseph Hutchinson died for you. He died for me. He died for everyone he knew and for 270 million countrymen who did not know him," DeLay said.

During the hourlong service, a video chronicled Hutchinson's military career and another his personal life.

Pfc. Anthony Catapano of Louisville, Ky., who called Hutchinson his best friend, said the two had made a pact before heading to the Middle East.

"We made a promise at the beginning that if anything ever happened to either of us, the other would take care of our parents. So I'm indebted to you," he told Michael and Deborah Hutchinson. "I'll be there for every minute of every day until you tell me to leave."

As the procession of 250 cars made its way from Sagemont Church to Forest Lawn Cemetery, people lined up along the route. Some waved flags while others stood at attention.

Large American flags were placed in the medians of the funeral route along Hughes Road, Blackhawk and Almeda-Genoa. Many stood in their front yards while others got out of their cars to pay their respects.

Most touching for the Hutchinsons was seeing schoolchildren from Thompson Intermediate and Moore, Frazier and Jessup elementary schools from the Pasadena school district stand with their hand over their heart and hold up American flags.

"It's overwhelming for the family. We want to thank everyone who came out and gave their support," said Michael Hutchinson, an internal audit director for a bank near Phoenix. "To us it was very personal with Ray Joseph but we also want to remember the other soldiers who died. Many of them have given their lives for the freedom we enjoy."

With sunny skies and a cool breeze blowing, Ray Hutchinson was honored with a 21-gun salute followed by Taps played by a trumpeter. The flag that draped his casket was folded and given to his parents by Brigadier General Bostic "on behalf of a grateful nation." Another flag was given to Hutchinson's brother, Andrew.

Ray Hutchinson last spoke to his parents two days before his death.

He was scheduled to be home for Christmas. He had wanted to return to Houston to be with his grandmother when she underwent recent heart surgery, but did not want to bump a fellow soldier already scheduled to leave Iraq.

His grandmother recovered from her surgery and attended Tuesday's service.

Ray Hutchinson grew up in League City, although his parents had recently moved to Arizona. He graduated from Clear Creek High School in 2001 where he was active in the band and the school newspaper. He attended Texas State University in San Marcos (then called Southwest Texas State University) for a year where he was a member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity before deciding to join the Army.

Hutchinson entered the Army in August 2002 and trained at Fort Benning, Ga., where he graduated as the distinguished honor graduate. He then was awarded entry into Airborne School and received his wings in January.

Following an assignment with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., he was deployed for Kuwait in January. He was a rifleman assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Regiment of the 101st Airborne.