I was browsing through some files of photos on my hard drive; having just passed the two year anniversary of this soldier's death, I thought I would share a little of how the war came home to me personally. I have a hobby/business of etched work on glass (and other mediums). For those who don't know, it's similar to airbrushing, but instead of paint and paper, it requires sand and glass.
Anyway, I get a call back in early '04 from the brother of Sfc. James Thomas Hoffman, who (at the time) had been recently killed in Iraq. He wanted to put together a shadow box/flag display case, and wanted it to be a personalized memorial to his brother. I ended up doing the etched work shown in the photos at the bottom.
Doing this project was quite emotional - Sfc. Hoffman's brother had wanted originally to do a portrait of his brother on the lower portion, but later decided against it. In researching photos from the internet, I came accross several articles describing him - from all accounts he was a fine person.
Freedom isn't free.
Sgt. James Thomas Hoffman was a caring man, said Capt. Terrence Alvarez, who worked with him at Fort Riley, Kan. "He invited my son horseback riding with him and his family one day last summer. It was really a blessed day and a memory I will cherish, as will my son always," Alvarez said at a memorial service for Hoffman and three comrades. Hoffman, 41, was killed Jan. 27 in a bomb attack in Khalidiyah, Iraq. After three years in the Army Reserve, Hoffman joined the active Army in 1987 and was assigned to Fort Campbell. He served in the Gulf War, later was stationed in Germany, and then at Fort Riley in 1994. In 1998, he was assigned to recruiting duty in Des Moines, Iowa. He returned to Fort Riley in 2001 and was deployed to Iraq in September. Hoffman grew up in Palatine, Ill.
During Operation Desert Storm, James T. Hoffman sent his childhood friend Michael Cullen a photo of himself with two recently captured Iraqi soldiers. Hoffman, whose father, Fred, lives in Cary, had his arms around these prisoners as he gave them a ration of food and a smile.
Cullen, who went to high school in Palatine with Hoffman in the late 1970s, said this image of warmth seems unusual for war but "it was typical of him."
The image stays with him, Cullen says, as he mourns for Hoffman, a 41-year-old Army sergeant who died Jan. 27 in an explosive attack in Khalidiyah, a region east of Ar Ramadi in Iraq. He was killed with three other soldiers assigned to the 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kansas.
Hoffman's family accepted a meritorious service medal on his behalf during a memorial service in his honor at Fort Riley Wednesday. The Army also will honor him with a Bronze Star Medal for his heroism in action and a Purple Heart.
The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. today at the Main Post Chapel in Kansas. In early March, the family plans to hold a memorial service in St. Thomas of Villanova Church in Palatine, the town where Hoffman did most of his growing up. His mother, Patricia, still lives in Palatine.
The family always feared this fate but had hoped he would make it through safely until September, when he planned to retire after 20 years of service in the Army.
Eric Hoffman, the decorated soldier's younger brother, said James and his wife, Vickie Pierce, had bought a home on 25 acres in Wakefield, Kansas just 30 days before he was deployed to Iraq last September.
His older brother wanted to spend his retirement with his wife and raise their granddaughter Chelsea Macon, of whom they had custody. He also wanted to care for the three horses on his ranch home.
"I just can't help but think he kind of got robbed of that," Eric Hoffman said. "He was looking forward to it because he had done his time."
James Hoffman enlisted with the Army Reserve in November 1984 and became an active combat engineer August 1987.
He served in Operation Desert Shield and Storm and traveled around the world and the United States - from Germany to Des Moines to Fort Riley - as he worked up the ranks and continued to earn honors.
He won the National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Services Ribbon, Multinational Force and Observer Medal and the Kuwait Liberation Medal among other honors.
"Jim was a hero and a wonderful man," said older brother Dan Hoffman.
Eric Hoffman said his brother's strong character and approachability led him to maintain friendships from high school and grade school. James Hoffman graduated from high school in 1980.
Cindy DiBlasi of Cary, who lived on the same Winston Park block in Palatine as the Hoffmans and knew James since the third grade, stayed in touch with him for years because he always lent a shoulder. During her teens, DiBlasi's boyfriend nearly died in a car accident and Hoffman was a main source of support.
She said she'll also always remember hanging out with Hoffman and other neighboring children in a tree house they built as grade-schoolers.
"If I saw him tomorrow it would be like the same," she said.
Cullen said he can't help but feel yet another "good guy" had fallen.
"It's a shame he's gone," Cullen said, but added, "If you are going to go, I don't think there is a more honorable way to go."
Edited to ad:
Does anyone know how to reduce the size of my pics? I've tried doing so on photobucket, but can't seem to get it to work