COLVILLE — Benjamin Todd was remembered Friday as a high-spirited man with a sense of adventure, an unassuming guy whose attitude about life was not hardened by multiple combat tours as a U.S. Army Ranger and helicopter pilot.
At an overflow funeral service in the Colville Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an Army general presented the 29-year-old soldier’s family with a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq and the city’s mayor read a proclamation declaring Friday to be Benjamin Todd Day.
Chief Warrant Officer Todd was one of four pilots killed Jan. 26 in a mid-air collision of two Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters during a night mission near Kirkuk. He’d been in Iraq with his unit, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, since last October.
“He was high-spirited and kind-hearted,” Terry Williams, a family friend who delivered the eulogy, said. “He was kind of an unassuming guy, not a big talker about himself.”
Todd discovered a love of flying at age 9, when he flew in his father’s gyrocopter and ultra-light plane, and “the exhilaration of being in the air stayed with him,” Williams said.
He grew up the oldest of three brothers, rode dirt bikes and four-wheelers, played high school football and joined the local Search and Rescue unit as a teen-ager. He told family those search and rescue skills helped after he joined the Army in 1999 and went into training to be a Ranger.
Todd served two tours in Afghanistan with the Rangers, including the first which was shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
“It didn’t harden his attitude about life. He was still an easy-going guy,” Williams said.
Home on leave in late 2004, he met Shelly Gordon at a New Year’s Eve party, and they were married four months later. After he completed helicopter flight school in 2007, he was assigned to Fort Drum, N.Y., the home of the 10th Mountain Division, where Shelly worked with the local church’s Cub Scout troop and he lent a hand.
Their daughter Ashlyn was born last April.
Brig. Gen. Peter Bayer, the ranking officer attending the funeral, said the way that Todd chose to live his life by volunteering for military service and deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq to help protect his country and help people in those countries, made him a hero. Bayer presented the family with a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.
A contingent of about 35 members of the Patriot Guard, some from Colville and surrounding towns, but others from Spokane and North Idaho, lined the entry way to the church with flags, saluting his flag-draped casket when it arrived on the snowy morning. Inside, a chorister sang “I Know My Redeemer Lives” and “Nearer My God to Thee.”
Colville Mayor Dick Nichols read a proclamation passed unanimously by the City Council in Todd’s honor, and said the blue field with white stars in the flag that the family would be presented should remind them of his love for flying.
Todd is survived by his wife and daughter, his mother Marti Todd in Colville; father Alan Wiley in Orient, brothers Nick and Daniel, grandmother Joyce Todd-McPhee of Colville, plus uncles, aunts, and in-laws, many of them in Northeast Washington.