"God Bless You, Jimmy. I will Miss You. Thank you for teaching me to believe in myself."
So ended the eulogy given by Scott Bennett, one of James D. Blankenbecler's best friends from childhood. Bennett and Blankenbecler's father, Lowell, both spoke at a memorial service held at West Potomac High School last weekend remembering the life of a soldier killed during action in the Iraqi war. In attendance were many neighborhood and school friends.
Neighborhood friend Judy Schultheis was there. Prior to the service, she said, "This [service] is a way for Jim's friends who couldn't make it to Texas to have some closure."
Bennett talked about how he and Blankenbecler met on the baseball field when they were 14.
"We had mutual respect for each other and then we just became friends," he said. "The characteristics, skills and traits that made him successful were very apparent in those days when we were wannabe football and baseball players."
Bennett went on to tell some stories about how Blankenbecler gave Bennett the courage to try a new play in baseball and how he taught Bennett how to ski.
"He had grace under pressure, he was strong, very capable and unbelievably compassionate," said Bennett.
Lowell Blankenbecler spoke about paying tribute to a hero. Lowell Blankenbecler said that his son was a hero to his family because he provided, protected and loved his family. He was a hero to himself because he preserved in taking courses even though he wasn't a scholar. He was also a hero to the army.
"He was a great leader, motivator and competitor. He looked after his men and led by example. He was proud of his uniform and very meticulous about how he looked," said Blankenbecler.
Lowell Blankenbecler said his son was also a hero to him as a father, his mother and his brother.
"Forty short years, that's all he was allowed. Who knows what he would have done with another 40 years?"
Jeff Dietze, director of student activities at West Potomac, worked with Blankenbecler's family to set up the memorial service. Members of the West Potomac's Jr. ROTC unit served as color guard and Kirsten Serba played 'Taps.' Rev. John Weatherly from St. Mark's Episcopal Church officiated. Weatherly said that he didn't know Blankenbecler, but that several members of his parish remembered him and his family.
"I'm sad about the circumstances, but glad that it's happening at West Potomac," he said. Ret. Brig. General Earl Simms, also spoke, saying that he knew Blankenbecler through his mother Joanne's eyes. Simms said that Blankenbecler served in all the right jobs, and was selected for all the right schools.
"He was certified and well-qualified in just 20 short years," he said. "Above all, Jim Blankenbecler was a solider."