You meet some of the nicest people in this business - often on days they prayed would never come. Such was the case today when, an hour after sauntering into the newsroom, I waded through a church parking lot full of grieving friends and family. Clutching photos, holding hands and wiping away tears, the youth group at Glen Hope Baptist Church told no less than four circling camera crews about a man we’d never meet. Pruitt Rainey, a local boy turned Army Corporal, died in Afghanistan Sunday. Taliban militants attacked his base, sparking one of the most ferocious battles since the invasion of that country in 2001. He was twenty two and in fourteen days, he would have been back home. Many of those looking forward to his return were even younger, for Pruitt had made a strong impression on the kids in this Burlington church. That was obvious from the look in their eyes when they talked about him. A great big ‘teddy bear of a fellow’, they called him - describing a kid who’d overcome hardscrabble roots to infect others with his stocky brand of optimism. When he first joined the Army to finance his education, those around him offered congratulations - then quietly prayed for his safety. But that was some time ago. With only two weeks left in Afghanistan, Pruitt’s friends figured he was all but done with hazardous duty. They didn’t know enough infantry lore to understand the young Corporal’s own misgivings. ‘Last missions’ are the most dangerous, they say. Stories of short-timers being killed on their final patrol have been handed down since men first began killing each other in large numbers. How many such tales Pruitt Rainey heard is unclear, but on his most recent MySpace page update, he described his mood as ‘Anxious’. As it turned out, he had reason to be.
So, why am I telling you all this? In hopes you’ll remember his name the next time you’re reaching for a hero.