WORTON - Bryan Nicholas Spry, Kent County High Class of 2003, came back to his school one last time yesterday.
Spry, 19, of Chestertown, was the eighth member of the military from Maryland to be killed since the war in Iraq broke out nearly a year ago, and friends and family wept as they walked by his casket in the school's auditorium.
"It's so sad to think we just graduated a year ago, and the first thing that brought our class together is this," said classmate Andrew Kern, who was one of the hundreds of mourners who came to Spry's funeral yesterday.
Spry, a private with the 82nd Airborne Division, died Feb. 14 when he drowned after a Humvee he was driving fell into a river, Army officials said.
Spry is one of two Eastern Shore soldiers to die in Iraq in the past month. The body of 1st Lt. Adam G. Mooney, 28, of Cambridge was found the day after Spry died. Mooney had been missing since Jan. 25, when his helicopter crashed. His funeral will be Tuesday in Cambridge.
Spry's classmates, many of whom had seen him over the summer before he went to basic training, wandered the school halls in groups, their eyes red and faces pale. "Everyone knows everyone here. Most of us grew up together," said Bobby Loughry.
More than 1,000 people attended Spry's funeral service yesterday and viewing Friday night, and many of the flags at businesses and schools in the area flew at half-staff. As the funeral procession drove past on the way to the cemetery at St. James United Methodist Church, people waved American flags.
Answered to 'Noodles'
Despite their grief, Spry's friends managed to remember happier moments with their classmate, who was called Nick and answered to "Noodles."
Spry was the type of person who couldn't bear to see others unhappy, friends said yesterday. He would persuade friends to throw parties, and if he saw people sitting down or not enjoying themselves, Spry would pull them into middle of the festivities. "Everybody's got to have a good time," Spry would say, according to friends.
While Spry was a good student, he didn't enjoy academics and spent much of his energy playing baseball and tooling around in his late-1980s Toyota truck. Although his friends occasionally made fun of the beat-up vehicle, Spry said that his "heart went out" to the truck and he couldn't be persuaded to get a new one, even after he discovered damage that had been obscured by a previous owner.
Spry's friends recalled his loyalty to them. The Class of 2003 went to Nag's Head, N.C., for its senior trip last spring. Most arrived in the evening, but one of Spry's friends, Ben Pitre, came in almost 12 hours later, at 6 a.m. the next day.
When Pitre opened the door to the hotel, he found Spry waiting for him. Spry stood up, shook Pitre's hand and said he was happy Pitre made it. "Then he went to bed. He looked like a wreck, but he said he wasn't going to bed until all of his friends got there," Pitre recalled.
Despite his carefree attitude, Spry had wanted to be a soldier since he was a child, though friends said Spry didn't care for guns as a youngster. When his older brother, Michael, went hunting, Spry would tag along with a camera. "I think he was scared of guns," Kern said.
But both of Spry's grandfathers fought in World War II, and "it was something he always talked about," Kern said.
When playing games as a child, Spry would use military signals, pointing at his eyes to tell friends to look carefully or holding up a fist to make them stop. In high school, he put Army stickers on his folders and wrote "Soldier to the End" in his books, friends said.
After signing up for the Army, Spry regularly ran and lifted weights to prepare for basic training. He already considered other soldiers to be his brothers, friends said. "My boys are over there, I have to be with them," he would say, according to friends.
"He was worried he was going to miss the action," Kern said.
Spry was in basic training when Saddam Hussein was captured in mid-December. He was initially elated but was slightly disappointed because he had hoped to capture the dictator. "OK, then I'm going to get Osama bin Laden," he said, according to friends and family.
"We lost a solider, an extraordinary young man on his way to being a leader," said Brig. Gen. Richard Rowe, the assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Spry's unit arrived in Iraq on Jan. 11. During his brief time in the country, he was shot once - the bullet was stopped by his flak jacket - and was close to a roadside bomb that gave him a slight concussion and damaged his eardrum.
Spry knew his family was worried about his safety and called relatives several times a week. They said he racked up a $400 phone bill during his time in Iraq.
Army officials said yesterday that Spry was a promising soldier who spent hours on the firing range and could break down and assemble his gun in less than three minutes - in the dark.
He had been on the fast track to promotion, said Army officials, who awarded Spry the Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge yesterday in recognition of his services.
While friends and family were comforted by the thought that Spry died doing what he loved, the sight of his casket lying on the frozen earth at the cemetery drove almost all to tears.
At the end of the graveside ceremony, a soldier presented the flag that covered his casket to his parents, Irving Wright Spry Jr. of Worton and Beverly J. Couch Fabri of Chestertown.
"It just doesn't seem real," Pitre said.