Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fallen Heroes, Iraq War 03/19/03

David A Ruhren

Stafford, Virginia

December 21, 2004

Age Military Rank Unit/Location
20 Army Spc

Army National Guard's 276th Engineer Battalion

West Point, Virginia

Died in Mosul, Iraq, when their dining facility was attacked.

June 2, 2005

Hi Handsome,
Garfield wants me to do a little speech about you. To tell everyone a little bit about – what a great guy you are. 
I know your thinking – great – As you’re putting on the famous David Alan smirk & just shrugging your shoulders
My mom is going to speak about me & given the fact she’s been such a basket case these days – she’s going to make this an emotional wreck. She’ll have people crying in the aisles - but you know what Davey - it’s Ok 

I’ll reframe from telling everyone how special you are to me & I won’t mention how much I love you & I won’t tell people that having you as my son – was the most amazing & the most full filling thing I have ever done in my life. I won’t tell people that our relationship was such a unqie relationship that if I even tried – I couldn’t describe it.
So w/that in mind – it should be ok
You would think that talking about you would be a very simple task for me to do – since bragging about you is a past time for me. After all - I’ve been doing it since b/4 you were born - but now – I just can’t put anything down on paper. 
I just don’t know how to put 21yrs into 10 minutes Davey.
It’s become an impossibility to me. 
I don’t know where to start or what they would think is important or if what I say would just be “a mother talking about her son”.
So like so many other times in the past – I need your help to get me thru this.
I need you to guide me - what should I tell them?
Do I tell them that you were born on May 3rd 1984 at Potomac Hospital – right here in Woodbridge. To me that would be the place to start.
You had the face of an angle & the sole of a little man.
Do you think I should go back that far?
How about the fact that you went from laying around in your crib - to running thru the hall way & totally skipping the crawling phase - by the time you were a yr old. By then you were into everything & I had such a hard time keeping up w/you.
Should I tell them about the time where you climbed up the recliner at 2 & pulled down the small fish aquarium – when I found you – you were sitting on the floor & fish were flopping all over your lap & off your head - how I wish I had a camera that day.
I think that’s where your obsession on fishing really began -but we won’t tell grandpa – he thinks you got the fever from him.
What a sight you were child.
Or how many countless times I found you in your high chair during lunch – face first in your spaghetti o’s - we all know how much you love to sleep davey & when you were tired – it just didn’t matter where you were – out you went. 
Looking back –how could I not see where your most favorite past time began – Sleeping & fishing
Oh I can’t forget the girls.
If people knew that you got your 1st kiss at 2yrs of age by an older woman – A 4yr old little girl that was a neighbor of ours – can you imagine the ragging you’d get about that?
Getting girls to fall at your feet never seemed to be a problem for you.
To say which one of these things would be your favorite – well – I think it’s a draw. If ever a child mastered the abilities of each & everyone of these conquest – it would be you son.
I know your thinking – MOM nobody needs to know about that – but you know what – I think they do 
I think people need to know that some of your traits were with you since you were an adorable little guy & stayed w/you as you became this amazing young man.
As they say – some things Never change.
I could tell them that you were in the gifted program by the time you were in the 1st grade & all the way thru your scholastic career.
How much you loved science & history - & your constant need for knowledge. Your passion to constantly travel & explore things & places that witch you had never experience. 
Everyday was like a learning experience with you. Your imagination would always take you places. The way you would just inhale information everyday from the very time you were born & stored it in the back of your mind for future conversations. Your ability to converse in adult conversations at 5-6-7 etc. that most children wouldn’t have a clue about – always left me speechless.
You know – I never told you this but I was always so impressed with the way you stood your ground when ever incorrect information was given to you or in your presence.
You had the courage to stand up & correct it with the right information. No matter who it was – be it ME – your friends/family – strangers & yes – sometimes – even your teachers. Yet if you knew you were right – you stood behind your beliefs.
It took courage to do that son.
I have always had so much respect for you for sticking by your principles.
Should I tell them how you became Grandma Chris’s hero at 8 by doing the Heimlich maneuver? How the 2 of you were having dinner & she started choking on something – you didn’t even think twice – just got up & did the perfect Heimlich & as she puts it - saved her. She still talks about that to this day.
Then again – 10yrs later at 18 she also talks about - your high school graduation party when your little cousins were heavily armed with super soakers aimed at you - their big cousin - of course with your quick thinking - you picked up your grandmother and used her as a shield against all the water aimed your way.
The things your grandmother would allow you to do & not to mention she would do for you.
I think we should tell people what you did for Grandma Anna when she was sick & in the hospital w/chemo. We had no idea how bad grandma would get or when she would come home – if she would come home.
You had just been accepted in the ROTC program – what a major accomplishment that was for you all in its self Davey – You had worked so hard to become a part of this program & you wanted to tell grandma. The ROTC hadn’t yet issued uniforms but W/a little help from your Major – a uniform would be presented to you.
You should have seen yourself – walking down those hospital hall ways – head held high – buttons on your jacket shined – pants pressed perfectly & shoes - you could see your reflection in - everything so perfect - you were so proud & so handsome.
All this so that grandma could see her 1st & oldest grandson in uniform.
The gift you gave her – Davey – it was priceless. We lost her a few months later but for those few minutes that day – she had a smile that just made the room glow – as much as she loved you & as much as she thought the world revolved around you - I don’t think there ever was a time that she was prouder of you - then she was that day. She said “military was in your blood”. 
Little did she know – how true that comment really would become.

Davey – there is just so much to say. I keep thinking & my mind is running faster then my fingers can keep up. I’m sure there are some thing’s we won’t want to tell them – you know how I like to live in my bubble – so If I don’t want to know – I’m sure they don’t either.
We can tell people that you are definitely a GQ boy – everything about you has to be perfect. From your hair - to your clothes – to your shoes.
I’ve heard stories about how young teenage girls take forever to get dressed & ready for any given day – well- I can bet that you take just as long if not longer & when you put on cologne – lets just say – I know you’ve been in a room even hours after you’ve left.

I could tell people your favorite color is RED – You have a silver ZX2 sport & now a custom made motorcycle. 
that you love movies like - American Pie, Mask, Dummer & Dummer, South Park, Mad TV etc.
You have a fish tank in your bed room along w/a poster of Starry nights
You love your dog Kaylia & your Iguana TJ
In your life time – there hasn’t been an animal you didn’t bring home at one point or another. You were forever bringing home baby birds, turtles, snakes, rabbits, etc.
When ever you left the house – I never knew what you would come home w/next. Most kids grow out of this by 12-13 Davey – but not my son – at 19 you were still finding baby turtles at our lake & just knew you had to bring it home because you felt they weren’t big enough to fend for themselves.
Davey – I still have that catfish in my tank that you caught the summer b/4 you deployed – at the time – he was barely an inch & you just knew a big fish would eat it – so now he’s 6 inches long & custom to a controlled environment – now I’m stuck w/him.
I can’t put him back in the water because he may not make it – that would defeat the purpose of you rescuing it - but I can’t keep him forever
At some point – we’re going to have to find him a new home.

Most everyone already knows by now you joined the Army Nat’l guard at 17 - but 
I can still tell people that were on a baseball team when you were a little guy – that you were a wrestler from middle school all the way thru high school –You were in the ROTC program & yes at some point – you – my son – were a cheerleader.
But I’ll make it a point to let them know that you joined the squad to improve your social skills w/the ladies – but davey I have to tell you – I really don’t think those are the skills you needed to focus on my son.

Some people may not know that you are also a member of the VFW – you joined while you deployed & although most of the members never got to meet you Davey – they were so waiting for your return & they always asked about how you were doing.
I want them to know – that you had plans of meeting them also.
You enjoyed getting there magazines.

As much as I could continue talking about all the things you have done & all the things that you like – I need to make sure to tell people who you are.

Who David Alan Ruhren is.

Click Photo For Larger View

I need to make sure that people know that you are the most kind/loving/loyal/generous/open minded sole that was ever put on this earth.
I need people to know that you are a son, grandson, cousin, nephew, a friend & a boyfriend.
They need to know that you had so many plans w/your life – b/4 you left for Iraq you were taking EMT classes & that you planned to go to collage – that you wanted at some point to become a police officer on a swat team & maybe even a child psychologist.

That you had met this really sweet girl & who knows what the future would have brought the 2 of you.

I want everyone to know your love for people & all living things – your passion for life. How you loved to be in the wilderness & your respect for every living creature. That to you being in the open out doors – was like a form of relaxation - it gave you peace & it made you feel whole.

Family is such an important part of your world & if you considered someone a close friend - to you – you considered them family.
You watched over your cousins like they were your brothers & sisters – you adopted younger children that would be our friend’s children - as if they were extended family & again – played the big brother role.
I think we should also mention that when you came home for a visit in November – you made it a point to go to London town Elementary to meet the children that had sent you cards & letters while you were in Iraq. 
The faces on those children when you walked into the room – they were in such aww w/you.
Not to mention the pride you had – when you spoke w/them.
It’s a memory – I won’t soon forget.

You cherished your grandparents & always made it a point to never do anything that would ever disappoint them.
The thing w/that davey – there was no way you ever could – you are & always will be prince david to them – you were dubbed that the day you were born & that is the way you were treated from that moment on.
As much as you would joke around w/your aunts & uncles – you respected their presence – not always were you on the same path of thinking w/them but you did show respect. In turn – you were given respect.
You have so many of them that we can’t go down the list of every experience but the memories are there & the love always will be.
Your sense of humor – the way you could always make people laugh when things weren’t always going real well & how you always made people feel like they were important even if others made them feel unwanted.
You were never to busy to take the time to listen when someone needed a shoulder to lean on.
As much as you had material things – you were never a materialistic person – you weren’t a person that had to have what others did – but more - the person that was always giving away your things to those who needed it more.
You are such a compassionate person – that sometimes you worried me. I always said you wore your heart on your sleeve davey & sometimes I thought someone would just take such advantage of that. 
When someone would hurt your feelings – you rarely ever held a grudge. The art of forgiveness was something you had instilled in you when you were born & you just seemed to learn how to fine tune it as life went on.

People need to also know – that as much as you were so confident in front of people w/your humor & wit – I know that you worried about your future. Who & what you would eventually become. I know that you didn’t have as much faith in yourself as I did but to the outside world – you never would let that be shown.
The thing w/that Davey -
Everything you touched – turned to gold – everything you did – you accomplished – when you set your mind to something – Nothing could stop you & when you did it – it was always above & beyond. There was never any compromise w/you or any normality.
Everything was from one extreme to another. You could never settle for the norm – you just don’t have that in you. You always reached higher then most at your age & on the most part – you succeeded.
You were harder on yourself then you needed to be.
They say we are our own worst critics my son.
You had no idea that the man you were so desperately trying to become – this image of perfection that you were so trying to reach – Davey 
You were already there.

I’ve always said it in the past & I’ll say it again – As a mother – I gave you the basics. I tried to show you right from wrong.
You my son – you took that & some - & you just blew me away. You are the man you became because you made those choices.
I just hope now -you see that.
You accomplished more in your short time on this planet – then most people do in their entire lives.

So now I’ll end this – I hope people were able to see a little bit of what a great guy you are bud & more then anything – I hope you are Ok with what I have written.
I know there is so much more to say – so many more things you have done but I only wanted people to get a glimpse of my boy.
I’m keeping the rest to myself – this way
It’s still you & me bud.

But b/4 I go – there’s just one more thing I need to say:

The thing I want people to know if they don’t by now - more then anything – Is yes - I’m proud of Sgt Ruhren but I’m even prouder of “ Davey “.
What you have heard today – is such a small part of who he is & no way could you get a true sense of his being if you have never met him.
To tell people how close we are – words can’t describe – you have to have actually been there to completely understand.
All I can tell you – is – if you met Davey & got to be in his world – even for a minute – it was a once in a life time journey & if you were part of the ride – then you were one of the few privileged – if you never got to meet him – you have no idea what you missed.

I love you son

From Sonja 06/19/06:

Hello My name is Sonja Ruhren

I know it's been over a yr but it has just been now that I have been able to bring myself to look at some of what has been written about my son.
I have been told about the websites that are out there & I have countless cards & letters that so many people have sent me - but it's only been now that I have been able to find the courage to read some of what has been written & I Thank you all so much
i could only bring myself to look at 2 of the sites for now but I copied all the e-mail address that were on the messages I saw so that i could personally reply to each of you & again Thank you for your kind words & tell you that i - as well as i know my son would be
are so honored that you took the time to do this for Davey as well as for me.

If any of you had sent a card - i have to tell you
I have not been able to bring myself to open any of them but at some point - I plan to sit down & read each & every one of them
They are all kept in a special place so that when I am able to find the strength - I will read them & promise to answer each one of them as well.
I Thank you all so much

I miss my son more then words can ever describe & everytime I think I have a handle on things - something comes about to remind me of what I no longer have & its like I have lost him all over again.
So - I'm not sure how other families handle things like this but it is & I think going to be a very long & hard process for me b/4 i can get back to some kind of normality - what ever that may be. Right now my world is very unfamiliar to me & what should be an easy task for most - doesn't seem to be that way for me at this point but everyday is a new day - so I hope you please understand why it's taken me till now to respond to your wonderful messages.

I know some of you know Davey very well - so you know what a wonderful person he truly is
& I also know that some have never met him & I truly wish I could describe to you how special my son is but I don't think I can do that in this e-mail.
So what I have done is attach a letter I wrote to Davey after I lost him.
This letter was read at the Memorial that his school did for him & 2 other fallen soldiers Brian Medina & a young man who's last name is Yates - they were all graduates from there.
The school wanted myself & Mr. Medina - who's handsome son - was lost a few mths b/4 I lost mine
To give a speech about our boys & it just wasn't something I could do - so I wrote a letter to my son instead & spokesperson for the school read it out loud.
Hopefully - it will give you a glimpse of my "Golden Boy"

Thank you again for all your kind words & please keep our boys who are still in harms way 
in your hearts
Keep faith that they will come home soon

Sonja Ruhren - mother of an American Soldier "SGT. David Alan Ruhren"

From Richmond Virginia Times-Dispatch TimesDispatch.com 12/22/05:

CONFLICT IN IRAQ: Tears of sorrow and pride
Monument unveiled at West Point armory to 2 slain guardsmen


Dec 22, 2005

A monument honoring two guardsmen from Virginia who died in a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004, was unveiled yesterday at a ceremony in West Point. DEAN HOFFMEYER/TIMES-DISPATCH
A monument honoring two guardsmen from Virginia who died in a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004, was unveiled yesterday at a ceremony in West Point.

WEST POINT -- Tears glistened in winter sunlight yesterday as a National Guard unit honored its first war dead by unveiling a monument dedicated to two men killed in a suicide bomber's attack a year ago in Iraq.

Nicholas C. Mason of King George County and David Ruhren of Stafford County were 20 years old. Both were posthumously promoted to sergeant. And both would have returned to that violence-torn country, speakers said, if only they could have been given another chance.

"Not a day that goes by that I don't tell God I want my baby back," Christine Mason said, choking back tears as she completed an address to the crowd of Guard members and civilians at the West Point armory.

But she praised her son's fellow soldiers for inspiring him during his short time in the Guard.

"They say you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps -- just look around," she said motioning to the crowd and its uniformed members.
Bond with colleagues

Mason said she and her husband, Vic, had to delude themselves during Nicholas' deployment to keep from worrying about him all the time. Now, she said, they still fool themselves, for a different reason: "We had to pretend he wasn't there [in Iraq]," she said, "and, sometimes, [now] we have to pretend he is still there."

Sonya Ruhren stood by while a chief warrant officer read what she had written for her son, David, who was her only child.

"I don't even have the strength to pretend," said Chief Warrant Officer Joanne Smith, reading Ruhren's letter to her son. "I keep hearing there is supposed to be this magical healing process. Well, it's been a year and I wish someone [could] tell me when I can breathe again."

But Ruhren's letter clearly expressed the bonds that David Ruhren made with his fellow Guard members, who attended the ceremony with a mixture of gratitude and sorrow on their faces.

Her son's fellow soldiers "love and respect you," her letter read, "but, they have no idea how much they inspired you."
Mosul suicide attack

The two men died in a suicide attack in Mosul, Iraq, that blew apart a mess tent on Dec. 21, 2004. The blast killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. troops, and injured 70 people.

Ruhren and Mason joined the Fredericksburg-based 229th Engineer Battalion shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They journeyed to Iraq as members of West Point's Company C of the 276th Engineer Battalion on its first oversees deployment.

The unit built roads, restored power to villages, destroyed weapons caches and defended a bridge during fighting, company commander 1st Lt. Beau Mason, who is not related to Nicholas, said after the ceremony.

Sgt. Sean Crippen, of White Stone in Lancaster County, roomed with David Ruhren during their time in Iraq and was walking toward the mess tent when the bomb exploded.

"It looked like the inside of a grill," it was so charred, he recalled.

Yesterday, he joined six other guardsmen for one last gesture in their lost friends' memory.

The seven men lined up in dress uniforms and fired their M-16 rifles three times for the traditional 21-gun salute.

"It was an honor," Crippen said.

Contact staff writer Lawrence Latané III at llatane@timesdispatch.com or (804) 333-3461.

From Richmond Virginia Times-Dispatch TimesDispatch.com 12/25/04:

Slain Va. soldiers recalled
Close comrades had turned 20 this year


Dec 25, 2004

* Mission: Mosul

FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq - Spc. Nicholas Mason disliked military rations, so he often loaded up on salami sandwiches at the mess tent.

Mason, who lived in King George County, Va., stuffed them in the trucks he drove for round-the-clock snacks.

He was stocking up on sandwiches in the mess tent Tuesday afternoon when a suicide bomber exploded nearby, killing him and 21 others.

His squad leader, Staff Sgt. Joel Miller, had the grim task of identifying Mason's body in the chaos that followed. Mason was not wearing his dog tags, so Miller searched him for his military identification. What he found hit home.

"I had to go through his pants to get his ID, and all I kept finding was fricking sandwiches everywhere," Miller said.

The blast also killed Mason's friend, Spc. David Ruhren of Stafford County. And it seriously wounded another friend, Spc. Richard Hursh of Fredericksburg.

Three fellow Virginia National Guardsmen from the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion were also wounded: Sgt. Douglas McManama, 32, of Sandston; Sgt. Kyle Wright, 46, of Richlands; and Sgt. Brian Lindley, 37, of Cumberland. McManama and Wright have returned to duty. Lindley is recovering from a fractured elbow in a hospital in Germany and will eventually return to the States.

Mason, Ruhren and Hursh were together in the mess tent Tuesday, gathering food in preparation for a long night mission. They were planning to block insurgents from using a bridge in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Miller dwelled on his soldiers after spending many hours guarding the bridge spanning the Tigris River. He sank into a low chair in his dimly lit hut, his face still ruddy from the chilly morning air. His squad had taken a big hit. And Miller was feeling it. His lips quivered with emotion.

"The hardest part of my job is to be a rock," he said.

Mason, Ruhren and Hursh had all turned 20 this year. They frequently hung out and played a popular multiplayer combat video game called Halo.

Fellow soldiers nicknamed Mason "Smiley" because of his sunny demeanor. And they poked fun at him for wearing extra-tight Under Armour pants.

Mason knew everyone, they said, and could acquire just about any supplies needed on base. They also credited him with saving soldiers' lives through his skills welding armor onto vehicles. He had just completed a year of study at Virginia Tech and was interested in joining the military's special forces, Miller said.

Ruhren was mellow and went by the nickname "Rerun." He was known as the best .50-caliber machine gunner in the battalion. An only child, he lived with his mother and worked as an emergency medical technician, Miller said.

"It was just the two of them. He was definitely the man of the house," Miller said, worrying how Ruhren's mother will cope.

Miller said Hursh was the quietest of the three. He is built like a bulldog, Miller said, and had just completed a year of studying civil engineering at Old Dominion University before his deployment. He is recovering in a military hospital in Germany and will not be returning to duty, a senior officer from the 276th said.

"I try needling the guys, but I could never get a rise out of Hursh. I could never set him off," Miller said. Officers considered Miller's squad the best-disciplined in the battalion. Miller received the Army Combat Engineer Sergeant award for his leadership this year.

"When it hit the fan, they were true professionals," said their platoon leader, Lt. Edward Lewis, a stocky Fredericksburg resident with short blond hair and light green eyes. "I would put them up against any of these active-duty guys any day. Every single one of them wanted to be here and do their part."

Lewis thought deeply about his men after returning with Miller from the long, cold bridge mission. He sat in a briefing room, reclining in a red plastic lawn chair. He kept his emotions in check. But no matter how warm he got sitting inside, he still felt numb.

Contact Jeremy Redmon at missionmosul@timesdispatch.com

From Kim Green 12/21/05:

A solemn prayer of remembrance

Lord, I give you thanks for returning the members of
the 276 home safely to their families and friends. 
But Lord this is also a day of solemn pride and
remembrance for the members of C Company for it was
one year ago today that their comrades were taken from
them. Lord I ask that you be with the families of
Sgt. Mason and Sgt. Ruhren in their time of grief. 
Please be with members of C Company as they grieve the
loss of their fellow soldiers and friends. Help these
men cherish the time they spent with Sgt. Mason and
Sgt. Ruhren. Let Sgt. Mason and Sgt. Ruhren be
remembered for how they touched the lives of their
fellow soldiers and so many others in their short time
on Earth. May their memories live on in the hearts of
men who served alongside them. Lord, help all of us
not to forget the sacrifice that these men have made
for their country and for the Iraqi people. I ask
this in your name. Amen

From Stars & Stripes 12/02/06:

Iraqi man sentenced to die for his role in chow hall bombing

By Joseph Giordono, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, December 2, 2006

An Iraqi man who confessed to a role in the December 2004 bombing of a U.S. military chow hall near Mosul has been convicted and sentenced to death by an Iraqi court, officials said Friday.

The man — whose name and age were not released — was convicted after confessing to producing a videotape of the suicide attack which killed 18 servicemembers and injured more than 30 others at Forward Operating Base Marez. The man was captured during a targeted raid, U.S. military officials said, and was convicted by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, where U.S. servicemembers are often called as witnesses against the suspected insurgents they arrest.

The verdict was one of 41 reached by the court in the final two weeks of November and announced on Friday.

Among the other cases, a Sudanese man was found guilty of illegally entering Iraq to join a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, officials said.

Another case involved an Iraqi man who was arrested after U.S. troops took fire from his vehicle; when the man was caught, a search of his vehicle turned up a large weapons cache including bomb-making materials. He was sentenced to 15 years.

In another verdict, three Iraqi brothers were found guilty of illegal weapons possession and each was sentenced to 15 years in prison. During a raid of their house, U.S. troops found pieces — including the camera — of an American unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that had crashed. Along with the UAV parts, which the three were trying to sell, the troops found weapons and propaganda.

Since it was established in April 2004, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq has been the venue for 1,740 trials of suspected insurgents. Of those, 1,501 cases resulted in convictions.

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