Fallen soldier honored with park dedication

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COLUMBIA - Family and community members honored the memory of a fallen soldier with a park dedication Friday. The friends and family of the late Sterling Wyatt gathered at the former Old 63 Roadside Park Friday evening to commemorate renaming the park Sterling W. Wyatt Park. Wyatt served as an Army specialist in Afghanistan. 

Friday marked the two-year anniversary of Wyatt's death. The 22-year-old Army specialist was killed when his vehicle was attacked while on patrol in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan in 2012.

Sherry Wyatt, the mother of the fallen solider, said the event came at the right time.  

"This was the second anniversary and we thought it was the appropriate time to be able to celebrate his life," Wyatt's mother said. "These are the people that came out and supported us during the worst time of our life and to be able to share this night with them and this park dedication's really special."

The ceremony began with a moment of prayer after which Sherry spoke to the crowd about the memory of her son.

Wyatt's father, Randy, and younger brother, Chandler, were also at the commemoration.

"It shows a further dedication that already happened with this community with all our friends through all different organizations we're a part of to show people actually don't forget and remember our son," Randy said.

Four of Wyatt's friends who served with him in Afghanistan travelled from across the country for the ceremony. Sgt. Steve Lyden, Sgt. Matt Krumeide, Sgt. Michael Mindt and former Army Specialist Brandon Bishop came from as far away as California and Michigan to honor their fallen comrade.

"We're really pleased that so many people would show up for this dedication and also that we also have these army buddies of Sterling's that came in from all over the country, to be here to be a part of this because they felt these was really important," Randy Wyatt said. "They even brought their wives and fiances and their moms with them to be a part of this and that makes it even more incredible."

Wyatt's mother said her son's fellow soldiers have become a part of the family.

"To have four of his buddies that served with him in Afghanistan, you know, that's really special. People coming from Kentucky and Michigan and Texas to be with us tonight, that's super special to us because they've become our big brother and our sons," Sherry Wyatt said.

Krumeide served six months in Afghanistan with Wyatt and spent time with him in training before deployment. Krumeide was sent home one month before Wyatt's death when he was caught in an explosion that cost him both his legs. He is undergoing rehab at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

"It means a lot to me that there's people out there that are going to do nice things for his family," Krumeide said. "Not only did Sterling make the ultimate sacrifice but his family lost a son and a brother. It's nice to see his community coming together to remember him and commemorate the park in his name."

Krumeide remembers Wyatt as someone with a vibrant personality.

"He was always red-faced. He was always laughing and smiling," Krumeide said. "He was a strong kid and nothing could ever bring him down."

Bishop, who drove in from Michigan, was one of the four people who carried Wyatt to a helicopter after the attack that took his life.

"We got to the end of the road and loaded him and another buddy of mine into the chopper and that was the last time I'd ever see him," Bishop said.

Bishop said Wyatt was always someone you could rely on.

"He was basically a brother I never had. He was like a loaded gun ready to go at any time," Bishop said. "If anybody came in and said 'hey, I need two guys,' he'd be one of the first to get up and go out and help. He was there for everyone."

Bishop added the park is a great way for Wyatt's family to remember their loved one.

"It's perfect. It's close to their house, two blocks away and I'm sure they are going to walk that park everyday," Bishop said.

Lyden said he will always remember Wyatt for the way he treated his fellow soldier.

"Our platoon was a family and he really took that to heart," Lyden said. "They brought us up in that mentality, that it's a family, and he really took that to heart. Every one of us were his family."

Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid was also at the ceremony and spoke to the crowd about Wyatt and his family. McDavid was an obstetrician before becoming the city's mayor and helped deliver both Sterling and his younger brother.

Members of the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard Riders also attended the ceremony in memory of the fallen soldier.