Sgt. Dale Griffin: Hero and a Good Kid

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images

    Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, 29, was just a kid from Terre Haute, Indiana.

    This morning, President Obama saluted his casket as it was carried off a military transport plane at Dover Air Force Base.

    Griffin was one of 18 soldiers and DEA agents recently killed in the bloodiest month for American forces in Afghanistan this year.

    Obama Views Caskets at Dover

    [CHI] Obama Views Caskets at Dover
    The president looks on as 18 soldiers come home.

    Griffin’s body was the last off the plane. His remains were the only ones to be honored in full view of the media with the permission of his family. It’s the first time the media has been allowed to view such an event in 18 years.

    The president led a team of officials onto the gray C-17 cargo plane carrying Griffin, and then stood for several minutes in a line of honor outside the plane, the AP reports.

    Before Griffin became a symbol for an out-of-control war in Afghanistan, he was a 189-pound kid who wrestled for the Terre Haute South Vigo Braves. Some who knew him remember him as a hometown boy.

    "I went to church with the Griffins as a child," Dwayne Thompson wrote on the Trib Star web site. "Dale was an energetic little kid when I left to join the Army myself. My thoughts are with the Griffins. This hits hard and close to home."

    Others remember him as a real American hero.

    “Dale was a great leader,” says his high school wrestling coach Steve Joseph.

    During his senior year when he placed second in the state in wrestling for the 189-pound division the freshmen wrestlers, who were often hazed by the older kids, looked up to him. Griffin made sure they were treated like teammates by making sure none of the younger wrestlers were hazed by the upperclassmen, Joseph said.

    "He didn’t necessarily protect them," Joseph said. "He just didn’t appreciate hazing of our younger wrestlers. He led by example and he wouldn’t let it happen."

    When Griffin’s family heard the news that their boy had been killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, they had just finished making blankets for the troops as part of a volunteer effort called “Blankets of Belief 2009” at their church.

    Dona Griffin, Dale’s mother made one specifically for her son, and then pitched in on 39 other blankets.

    "[The soldiers] will know people from the states care about them and no soldier will go unloved," she told the Trib Star.

    Dona and Gene Griffin, who could not be reached for this article because they are coming back from Dover, told the paper that their son joined the military directly after the September 11 terror attacks in New York City.

    "Dale did what he thought was right," coach Joseph said about his former wrester. "He did what he thought he had to do."