August 15, 20007 was Cpl. Willard M. Powell's last day on this earth.
He joined the Army in Feb. of 2006. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, Wash. and died Aug. 16 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when the enemy attacked using small-arms fire during combat operations in Taramiyah, Iraq. He was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
This was a man who grew into a hero, but I knew him best as Will, a super-competitive kid who often annoyed the crap out of me in 3rd-4th grade. I was a super-competitive kid too. We had many battles before and after school in daycare. Recesses were also fair game. We played on competing soccer teams in the school league. I took great pleasure in beating him. At anything.
One day in childcare, we were playing basketball. I was on the opposing team, the only girl. He gave me crap the whole game, wouldn't shut up. I ended up with the ball as the teacher was calling everyone in. It was the last shot and the score was tied. I got a shot away- while being knocked down by one the boys- and ended up with two bloody knees and a bloody elbow. But I made the basket. My team won. My mom wasn't happy with another pair of torn pants, but my team won.
As I was picking the gravel out of my knee and contemplating a trip to the nurse for some bandaids, Will offered me a hand up and said, "you can play." That day, we went from being rivals to friends. We recognized in each other a certain fight, a stubborn determination. After that, we teamed up together a couple of times. We never lost.
Will transfered schools at some point, maybe a year later. It seemed like one day he was there and the next he was gone. He was going through some family stuff, and that probably had something to do with it. The playground wasn't quite as frustrating without him, or as fun.
I was walking down the hallway at my high school, I believe at the beginning of the year, turned a corner and almost walked into him. This was a surprise, not many kids from our small Christian school went to this high school, ever. It took us a second to recognize each other and from where. We caught up, laughed, and then rushed off to make it to class before the bell rang.
We saw each other in the halls often after that. I had a class or two with him, and we were friendly. Didn't really run around with the same people though, after classes. But he always had a smile for me in the hall. We joked around about teachers and assignments. Sometimes even about those games on the playground when I kicked his butt (or he kicked mine). He never failed to notice if I looked sad or upset. He'd crack a grin and tell me to cheer up.
Will is one of the last people I saw before I left the building the final time on the last day of school as a senior. I was in the business hallway, and he was too. He was at a locker, his or someone elses, just standing around. He flashed a giant last-day-of-school smile and said "Good luck, have a good summer. I'll see ya around."
We went our separate ways after that. I regret not keeping in better touch. I guess I thought we would fall back into each others lives at some point, as childhood friends seem to do. That image- of Will holding onto a locker at the end of the hall, rocking jeans and a white shirt, huge grin plastered on his face- is the memory I hold onto.
Cpl. Will Powell is a hero who gave his life looking out for other people. It will be two years tomorrow. His story should be told. He deserves to be remembered.