Sergeant Kenneth Booker laid to rest with honor and fanfare in Switzerland County

317

It was a dreary, rainy weekend in Switzerland County. Overcast, cloudy, rainy conditions provided the backdrop of what was a sea of emotions, as Sergeant Kenneth Raymond Booker’s body was returned to his hometown for funeral services and burial.

Sergeant Kenneth Booker, 25, was killed in action near Mukhisa, Iraq on Wednesday, November 14th, at 8:28 p.m. He was serving with the U.S. Army as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sergeant Booker when the Stryker eight-wheel-drive vehicle that he was commanding was struck by a new form of improvised explosive while on patrol.

Kenneth Booker joined the Army shortly after graduating from Switzerland County High School in 2000, and was on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan during previous deployments, and served with the 82nd Airborne that is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

He is the first Switzerland County native to be killed during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kenneth Booker’s body was returned to Indiana on Friday morning, as an airplane carrying his remains landed at the North Vernon Airport. Once on the ground, there was a short service for family at the airport, and then a processional of vehicles drove up Highway 50 to Versailles, and then down State Road 129 to Vevay.

Lowell Wayne Sullivan, commander of the American Legion post here and the driver of one of the limousines for members of the family, said that the processional saw an outpouring of support along the way.

“There were people lining the streets in North Vernon and up Highway 50 and all through Versailles,” Lowell Wayne Sullivan said. “The whole area turned out to honor him.”

Coming into Vevay, the processional was joined by firetrucks and police cruisers from all over the county, and school children lined the highway waving American Flags as the processional made its way down Main Street.

Many county residents knew of the arrival, and both sides of Main Street were lined with people all the way through town, braving rainy and windy weather to pay their respects to Switzerland County’s fallen hero.

Signs at all of the schools saluted Kenneth Booker, as did every business sign in the community.

Switzerland County Tourism provided small American Flags for supporters; and three trees were placed on the balcony of the Switzerland County Courthouse, one each decorated in red, white, and blue in honor of and remembrance of Kenneth Booker. The trees and courthouse lawn were decorated by Vickie Althoff, the Switzerland County FFA, and Farm Bureau.

The visitation service was held on Saturday night in the Switzerland County High School gymnasium; and following a time for the family, the public visitation opened with military veterans entering the gym side by side. They solemnly approached the flag-draped casket, saluted, and then quietly exited to the back of the gym. They were followed by members of the American Legion and VFW auxiliaries; along with law enforcement, fire department, and emergency personnel.

Charlie Booker, father of Kenneth Booker, stood at his fallen son’s side, dressed in his own military uniform that he wore proudly during his 21-year military career as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army. He retired three years ago.

As the public viewing got underway, a continuous stream of people quietly entered the gymnasium, walking to the north end of the gym, then bending east and then walking by the casket and greeting the family. Members of the Switzerland County FFA chapter, which Kenneth Booker was a member of while he was in high school, helped coordinate the visitation and funeral services, escorting people to their seats and offering directions and information as needed.

The funeral was held on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., and Sergeant Booker’s casket was brought into the gym by an honor guard from Fort Knox, Kentucky. As the honor guard entered the gym, the Switzerland County High School band played “The National Anthem”. As the funeral began, the estimated 700 attendees recited the “Pledge of Allegiance”.

The high school choir then sang “America the Beautiful”; and Army chaplain Barry Wright welcomed those in attendance and offered an opening prayer.

Major General David H. Huntoon, Jr., commandant of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, addressed the audience on behalf of the Secretary of the Army.

“At the time of his loss, Ken was serving in a unit whose mission today requires equal measures of courage and compassion,” Major General Huntoon said. “Given his demonstrated commitment to serve his country, his patriotism and his selfless caring for others, this dangerous duty was a natural calling for him.”

Major General Huntoon also presented a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart to Kenneth Booker’s father, and Kenneth Booker also was posthumously awarded an Army Commendation Medal for his work getting his unit ready for deployment.

Following an emotional playing of the Billy Ray Cyrus song, “Some Gave All”, presentations were made to those in attendance and the family by representatives of different officials.

Representatives of the offices of Senator Richard Lugar, Senator Evan Bayh, and Governor Mitch Daniels all offered brief remarks; and Congressman Baron Hill was in attendance.

The congressman read remarks that he had placed in the Congressional Record honoring Kenneth Booker; and offered his condolences to the family.

Other presentations were made by the Blue Star Mothers, the Indiana Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Paratroopers; and by Switzerland County School Superintendent Tracy Caddell and high school principal Candis Haskell.

One of the most emotional moments of the ceremony came as the Lee Greenwood song, “God Bless the USA”, played. As the lyrics stated, “…I’d gladly stand up, next to you…”, members of the Vevay VFW Post in attendance rose to their feet, followed by everyone in the gymnasium. Tears flowed and hugs were exchanged as the song continued.

Dr. Danny Gabbard, who is Charles Booker’s pastor, offered words of comfort and strength to the family; and that was followed by the song “Sanctuary”, performed by singer Jaci Velasquez.

Chaplain Barry Wright provided the message for the funeral service, using scripture as a means of comfort and honor. His remarks were then followed by the Tim McGraw song, “I’m Already Home”.

As a medley of patriotic music played, the honor guard returned to the front of the gymnasium, where they carefully lifted the casket and carried it from the funeral. Sergeant Booker’s body was followed by his family members, and then the dignitaries in attendance.

Kenneth Booker was buried in the Slawson Cemetery near Bennington, with full military honors.