Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Tristate soldier killed in Iraq

Wilmington man was on copter downed Sunday

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILMINGTON - He had wanted to be a soldier since he was 4 years old, but after eight months in Iraq, all Army Sgt. Steven D. Conover wanted was to fish with his grandpa, mountain bike with his stepfather, hang out with his toddler nephew and eat pizza and some of his mother's home-cooking.

But 36 hours after hearing that a U.S. helicopter had been downed in Iraq on Sunday, his family learned that Conover, 21, had died in the attack.

He was on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter shot down by a missile, making him the fourth Tristate soldier killed in the Iraqi war. Fifteen other American soldiers died in Sunday's attack on the helicopter, which was transporting soldiers to Baghdad on their way to home leave.

Conover was due home today for a two-week leave.

"He's told us so many times how he's seen the hand of God out there in Iraq," Michael Earley, Conover's stepfather, said Monday evening. "Now he's holding God's hand."

The military did not immediately identify all the victims of the single-deadliest attack on U.S. troops since the war began in March. The attack also left 20 soldiers wounded.

Around the nation, families of the 16 U.S. soldiers killed had been looking forward to time with their loved ones. Instead, the families grieved Monday.

Many of the victims were heading home for R&R or emergency leave when they were killed.

Servicemen from Hamilton, Delhi Township and Batesville, Ind., also have been killed, all in attacks on U.S. forces since the fall of Saddam Hussein. A fifth soldier, from Hamilton, was killed in a training accident just before the war began in March.

Family members did not know when a memorial service for Conover would be held, but said they plan to have services at Wilmington Church of God, where Conover attended. His remains will be flown home in a week to 10 days.

He leaves his mother, Lorraine, an older brother, Aaron, and two younger sisters, Corrie and Kaleigh. He married his 20-year-old childhood sweetheart, Brooke, less than a year ago.

Family and friends gathered at Conover's suburban childhood home Monday evening, and they described Conover as a man who was living his lifelong dream to be a soldier - he'd been frequenting Army recruiting stations since he was 11.

He was a specialist in field artillery, operating a howitzer, his mother said. He had been based at Fort Sill, Okla.

But war had changed him. After seeing his best friend die in Iraq, the former high school wrestler was not planning to re-enlist in May.

Instead, he had hoped to become an aircraft technician or a state trooper.

Sunday and Monday, the family waited ominously. They did not know whether they soon would be celebrating Conover's return or mourning his death.

"We had gone 36 hours, and we thought we were over the hump," Michael Earley said. "We knew he was on one of those helicopters."

"On Sunday we didn't move," said Lorraine Earley. "We just sat glued to the TV and phone."

"We just thanked God every hour we didn't have a phone call," Michael Earley said.

About 1:30 p.m. Monday, Conover's youngest sister, Kaleigh, 16, answered the door.

A man from the military stood on their stoop and asked to speak to Steven's parents. He told the Earleys their son had died bravely.

"I want people to know my son was just awesome," Lorraine Earley said, clutching a picture of the handsome, dark-haired soldier Monday evening as she stood in front of an American flag.

"He was a hero," his stepfather said.

Other Tristate war deaths

Army Pfc. Marlin Rockhold, 23, of Hamilton, was fatally shot by a sniper May 8 while he directed traffic in Baghdad. He was a member of the 3rd Army Infantry based at Fort Stewart, Ga.

Rockhold was a 1998 graduate of Hamilton High School, the second graduate of that school killed in connection with the war in Iraq.

Army Sgt. Benjamin Franklin Moore III, 25, was accidentally shot in the back in February in Fort Hood, Texas, while training to be deployed in Iraq. Moore also lived in Hamilton and was a former Miami University wrestler.

Army Spc. Chad Keith, 21, of Batesville, Ind., died in July when a roadside bomb exploded as his unit was patrolling Baghdad. He was a gunner with Company D, 2nd Battalion of the 325th Infantry, based in Fort Bragg, N.C.

Army Spc. James Wright, 27, of Delhi Township, was killed Sept. 18 while his unit was patrolling near the Tigris River

The 1994 Oak Hills High School graduate was a member of the 4th Army Infantry at Fort Hood, Texas. His widow is expected to give birth to their first child on Christmas Day.


Reporters Michael Clark and Jennifer Edwards and the Associated Press contributed to this report. E-mail rforgrave@enquirer.com

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