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... a brother and a piece of our heart: Tributes from fellow soldiers shared at Clark funeral

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A U.S. Army member speaks Sunday to Tracy and Rick Clark of New London, parents of Pfc. Ryane Clark, at the burial ceremony for the young soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. He was buried Sunday with military honors at Green Lake Lutheran Cemetery near Spicer. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 6
American Legion members were among those honoring Clark during the burial ceremony Sunday. Ryane Clark was a member of the New London American Legion.(Tribune photo by Ron Adams)3 / 6
A crowd of family, friends and community members -- including fellow Boy Scouts -- pay their respects Sunday to Pfc. Ryane Clark during his funeral at the New London-Spicer High School. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)4 / 6
Rick and Tracy Clark of New London walk Sunday in the New London-Spicer High School gymnasium at the funeral of their 22-year-old son, Pfc. Ryane Clark. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)5 / 6
Pfc. Ryane Clark's casket is carried into the funeral by members of the U.S. Army. Clark was clearing the route for a combat brigade when he was ambushed and killed while serving in Afghanistan. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)6 / 6

NEW LONDON -- Mourners quietly filled the New London-Spicer High School gymnasium and waited Sunday afternoon -- some dabbing at tears -- until the cadence of the footsteps of the honor guard delivered the flag-draped coffin of Private First Class Ryane Glenn Clark.

"We have lost a brother and a piece of our heart,'' said Maj. Gen. Rodney Anderson. The message he delivered to the mourners came from Clark's fellow U.S. Army soldiers who are still fighting in Afghanistan.

Following the honor guard into the gymnasium were the fallen soldier's parents, Rick Clark holding wife Tracy as they led other family members into the packed gymnasium.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Adjutant Gen. Larry Shellito of the Minnesota National Guard were among those there to pay their respects.

Sunday's funeral service for Clark, 22, of New London, represented a continuation of what the Rev. Randy Koppen called an "overwhelming'' showing of community support for Clark's family.

Clark was killed Oct. 4 while serving in Shekhabad, Afghanistan. He was part of a convoy that was ambushed by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

Outside the NLS school, Patriot Guard volunteers holding American flags lined the roadway under gray skies befitting the somber mood of the mourners.

Inside, the high school lobby held Clark's orange Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a separate area was set aside as a tribute to him. It held photos and trophies and merit badges from his years as a high school wrestler and Boy Scout. Television monitors flashed photos of the 2007 NLS graduate's years in school and sports. The photos showed an always-smiling Clark as he graduated from the law enforcement program at the Alexandria Technical and Community College and entered the Minnesota National Guard and the U.S. Army.

Clark was serving his first tour in Afghanistan as part of the 27th Combat Engineering Battalion (airborne), 20th Combat Engineer Brigade.

He had volunteered for special combat duty, Maj. Gen. Anderson told the mourners. He was part of the engineering sappers charged with clearing the route for a combat brigade when he was ambushed. "Always the first into a dangerous situation,'' he said of Clark's role.

Tributes that Anderson carried from Clark's fellow soldiers honored him not only for his courage, but also for what they called his "10-mile" wide smile and natural ability to brighten everyone's mood. "Every step made his presence known,'' said Anderson of one soldier's tribute to Clark.

Clark was cited with both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his bravery, according to the commander.

He was a member of the Green Lake Lutheran Church, and remembered as well for his love of his community and church family.

The Rev. Victor Olson, pastor of the small congregation, eulogized Clark by telling the mourners that he was "filling the gap'' by defending his country and protecting our God-given freedoms.

To Clark's mother, the pastor offered the hope of their reunion in heaven thanks to their faith in God. "We know that you are hurting with a hurt that seems more than unbearable,'' Olson said.

As evident as was the family's hurt was the outpouring of support from the community. Family members and friends of the deceased were surrounded by many who had come to show their support. Boy Scouts wore uniforms to honor the Eagle Scout. The New London firemen who serve along with Clark's father on the volunteer department wore their dress shirts in a show of support too.

The eulogies and tributes ended as they had began, with the cadence of the honor guard leading the casket and family of Ryane G. Clark outside the school. Patriot Guard members idled their motorcycles as three buses filled with mourners. The procession made its way to the small church cemetery outside Spicer, where the last respects were paid and final goodbyes said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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