Holy Road: Native soldier laid to rest

The Associated Press
12/31/07

TIMBER LAKE, S.D. (AP) - Army Cpl. Tanner O'Leary was praised for his service to his country and others and then buried Dec. 20 in a private cemetery on the family ranch south of Timber Lake.

The 23-year-old native of Timber Lake and Eagle Butte died Dec. 9 of injuries sustained in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan. He was a member of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Former Cheyenne River Tribe Chairman Greg Bourland said O'Leary represented the best of the warrior culture in an American Indian society that enlists and serves in the military at five times the national average.

''They're the first to step forward in war time, the first to step forward in the defense of their nation,'' Bourland said during a memorial service.

''You know he was rough and ready, rambunctious, a take-no-prisoners kind of guy,'' Sandra Lebeau said before she read a poem O'Leary had written to his mother when he graduated from high school in 2003.

The poem surprised her, Lebeau said, because even though she and O'Leary's mother were lifelong friends, she'd not seen the poetic side of the young man. He wrote of how his mother completed him, how she was the one who ''painted the world a rainbow when it's filled with broken dreams.''

Sen. John Thune recalled meeting a young O'Leary while the senator was still a member of the U.S. House and out of gas west of Timber Lake in a vehicle with staff members. O'Leary, on his way home from school, stopped to help. He gave Thune a ride to town and stayed with the group until he was sure they were back on the road, Thune said.

''It was a brief encounter, but it was meaningful,'' Thune said. He said it was an early indication of ''a young man who saw someone in need of help and was willing to stop.''

That quality, Thune suggested, may have prompted O'Leary to join the service and defend his country.

Gov. Mike Rounds said that in giving his life for his country and people, O'Leary emphasized the cost connected to the freedoms that every U.S. citizen enjoys.

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