N.C. National Guard soldiers honored

March 25, 2008 5:21:00 PM PDT
Two members of the North Carolina Army National Guard are being remembered.

A roadside bomb killed them in Baghdad. They're part of the 1132nd Military Police, a group of 120 soldiers that's been in Iraq since last June.

The victims are Sergeant Thomas Ray, who lived in Weaverville and Sergeant David Blake Williams, who grew up Tarboro.

In the dugout of the Tarboro Vikings stadium, number 14 hangs from the fence. It'll hand there during each home game for the rest of the season. It's the number worn by 26-year-old Sgt. David Blake Williams when he was in high school. Pat Miller was his coach.

"There's a story we tell about him," Coach Miller said. "We were getting ready to go to the state playoffs and he was pitching batting practice. And he happened to hit one of our players. He felt really bad that the kid might not be able to play the next day. But Blake, he was a teammate through and through to everybody."

Sgt. Williams and 40-year-old Thomas Ray were killed Saturday near Baghdad when an I.E.D. destroyed their vehicle. Sgt. Ray was from Weaverville.

Both were members of the 1132nd Military Police Company based in Rocky Mount. Their deaths raised the death toll in Iraq to 4,000 U.S. soldiers.

"Regardless of the number, it's tragic when we lose someone," Major Matthew Handley, N.C. National Guard, said. "Being part of that milestone. The National Guard has been part of this conflict since the beginning."

Williams' death has stunned the Tarboro community. All over, flags are flying at half staff. Word of his death broke during Saturday night baseball. Number 14 lit up on the scoreboard.

Now the former pitchers turned soldier is being remembered for both his dedication to the game and the love he had for America.

"You just hate to see it for anybody," Coach Miller said. "Anybody's family, anybody's child. Doing something he loved. Working for his country. You just hated to see it happen."

Next season the Vikings plan to retire number 14.


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