CHESTERTOWN -- A 19-year-old paratrooper from Kent County, eight months past his high school graduation, was killed in an accident outside Baghdad, becoming the eighth casualty from Maryland since U.S. forces invaded Iraq nearly a year ago.
Pvt. Bryan Nicholas Spry, a driver with the elite 82nd Airborne, died Friday after the Humvee he was driving turned over, landing upside down and pinning the former junior varsity baseball player in a water-filled ditch, Army officials said. Three fellow soldiers who were passengers escaped injury, but were unable to free Spry, who drowned.
Yesterday, family members gathered at the yellow rancher where Spry grew up along the banks of Worton Creek. A military chaplain told them that two vehicles had collided, they said. But his mother, Beverly Fabri, said Spry's commanding officer told her in a phone call that the collapse of a makeshift bridge caused the accident.
Either way, said Fabri, Spry knew the risks, but seemed certain that the military life he had chosen at such an early age was right for him. As the younger brother of 22-year-old Michael Spry, a former Division II All-American who now plays minor-league baseball, Nicholas looked for a way to make his own mark, said their mother.
"He never resented his brother's success; in fact, he was devoted to Michael through all the years and all the miles we'd travel for baseball tournaments," Fabri said. "There were three years and four grades between the two of them, but they were very close. Nicholas was looking for some limelight in his own way."
Michael Spry said he would never have considered trying to dissuade his brother from joining the Army.
"I think about the woods out back and how many stick guns we played with when we were younger," he said. "We had talked a lot of times about going in [the military] together. It was a little bit of fantasy for me and reality for him."
Nicholas Spry, family members said, was intrigued by the war records of both his grandfathers who fought in World War II. He enlisted before he completed high school to guarantee his place for training as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Just three weeks after his arrival in a combat assignment, Spry was hoping for the chance to train as an Army Ranger, said his father Irving, a masonry contractor. "We knew what he was getting into," said the elder Spry. "He was in a firefight a few days after he got to Iraq. He'd also befriended a little Iraqi boy who was killed by a roadside bomb. He had seen a lot very quickly. He called us just two days before he died."
Family members say Spry had racked up $400 in phone charges, calling home two or three times a week since his mother and brother saw him off when his unit shipped out Jan. 11.
About 11:15 Saturday night, Fabri said she and her husband, Norman, and Nicholas' girlfriend, 16-year-old Lee Sandebeck, who was visiting, were nearly ready for bed when she noticed car lights at the end of their 1-acre yard. Walking outside to see if someone needed help, she knew the worst had happened once she saw it was an Army chaplain and another officer.
"I had been told that if they come in fatigue uniforms, your son has been wounded," Fabri recalled. "When I saw that they were wearing dress uniforms, I knew Nicholas was gone."
A little more than a month ago when Spry was home on leave, he visited friends and teachers at his alma mater, Kent County High School, the only high school in the sparsely populated county.
"He'd gone right to the Army in June," said Principal Gordon Sampson. "When he came back here to visit friends, he was a young man ready for life. He was doing what he wanted, serving his country. We are very proud of him."
Funeral arrangements were not complete yesterday afternoon, but family members say they plan to have a graveside service Saturday at a cemetery in nearby Worton.