St. Johnsbury, Vt. His mother in tears, his 6-year-old daughter proudly singing from the altar, his flag-draped casket carried by an honor guard, a Vermont National Guard soldier was buried Saturday, two weeks after being killed by a roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
Specialist Ryan Grady, 25, was remembered as a big man with a big heart who wanted to serve his country and ended up paying the ultimate price for it. In a patriotic hourlong service attended by about 300 at the gothic stone North Congregational Church, mourners sang “God Bless the USA” and a soldier read proclamations for posthumous military medals that were presented to his family members.
Grady, of West Burke, joined the U.S. Army in 2003 and served in Iraq, where he was awarded a Purple Heart. After returning home in 2006, he joined the National Guard. Last year, he shipped out with about 1,500 other members of the Guard who are part of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He died July 2 in a bombing that injured four others.
Grady’s mother, Debbie Hudacek, recalled talking with him online while he was serving.
“I didn’t see (any) action yet,” he said in one exchange.
“Maybe that’s God’s way of keeping you safe,” she replied.
“But I want to see action,” he said.
“And then this happened,” Hudacek, of Muskogee, Okla., told the congregation, sobbing.
Earlier that day, Grady had a meal with his brother Kevin, who is also a Vermont National Guard member serving in Afghanistan, according to Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, the Guard’s commander. Grady’s father, James Grady, is a Guard member, too.
Dubie called Grady a patriot, “in the truest sense of the word.”
“You may ask yourself: What kind of people join the military after Sept. 11? People like Ryan Grady. People who know they may have to serve their country in harm’s way. To me, they are the next ‘greatest generation’ of Americans, that’s what they are,” Dubie said at the service.
His brother Jim Grady Jr. said Grady’s size — he was about 6-foot-4 and weighed more than 240 pounds — sometimes intimidated people, but said anyone who met him quickly could tell he had a warm heart. As a soldier, he would sign off on notes with the words “saving the world one mission at a time,” his brother said.
In an unscripted part of the service, daughter Alexis walked up to the altar and stood next to Chaplain James MacIntyre III to sing a song — apparently an original.
“I loved him so much/but at least my mom is here,” was one of the lines in it.
When she came down from the altar, her mother hugged her and the girl then hugged her grandfather and other family members in the front row of the church.
Vocalist Catherine Currier included a mention of “Specialist Grady” in her a cappella rendition of “God Bless the USA” and got the congregation to sing along on the final verse.
In a nod to the roots of the Kansas-born Grady, “Home on the Range” was also sung as part of the service.
Grady is the second Vermont National Guard member to die in Afghanistan. Sgt. 1st Class John Thomas Stone of Tunbridge was killed March 29, 2006, in southern Afghanistan, when the forward operating base he was in was attacked.