Salem • Utah soldier Cody Towse was remembered on Saturday as a jokester with an upbeat outlook and a sarcastic wit, but also as a kind and dedicated Army combat medic who had earned the trust and respect of his platoon members and was lovingly referred to as "Doc."
"The platoon medic is often the heart and soul of the unit," Brig. Gen. John W. Charlton from Fort Bliss, Texas, where Towse was based before leaving for Afghanistan, told mourners at Salem Hills High School. "All the soldiers know that's the one person, the one soldier that they can count on to be there when they need them."
Towse died May 14 during a series of four improvised explosive-device blasts while on foot patrol in Sanjaray, Afghanistan, six days after his 21st birthday. He was killed in the second explosion after running in to provide life-saving medical care to a wounded fellow soldier, Army officials have said.
Three others died that day, including two soldiers assigned with Towse to the 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss.
Towse exemplified the professional ethos of the best Army medics, who willingly shoulder the burden of caring for others, even as they risk their own lives, Charlton said.
"Cody knew these dangers but was undeterred," Charlton said. "Although his death is a heart-breaking tragedy for his loving family, this community and our nation as a whole, it also serves as a testament to Cody's incredible bravery. It's also a testament to his devotion to his fellow soldiers. And lastly it's a testament to his commitment to his country and to the innocent people of Afghanistan, who yearn for freedom and a better life."
For his bravery, Towse was posthumously promoted from private first class to specialist and decorated with the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, a combat medic's badge and a Medal of Honor. All were on display on a table outside the school's auditorium, along with photographs and other mementos from Towse's life, including gear from the Elk Ridge Fire Department, where he served as a paramedic and a firefighter with his father, Jim Towse.
Charlton was among 10 speakers from mother Jamie Towse, to a pair of cousins and Utah dignitaries U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Gov. Gary Herbert sharing stories from Towse's life and offering words of comfort. Hundreds of mourners, many of them in military uniforms, packed the Salem Hills auditorium for the service. Towse graduated from the school in 2010 and soon a scholarship bearing his name will be available to students who share his love of American history, family members said.
A huge American flag hung on the auditorium stage curtain, and Towse's flag-draped silver casket was surrounded by red and white flowers and large pictures of the young medic with the infectious smile.
Towse chose the military over serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because he felt he could use his skills as a paramedic to make a difference and save lives, Jim Towse has said. He wasn't afraid of being in a war zone and often told his parents not to be afraid on his behalf, his father has said.
What Cody Towse did fear, Jim Towse said, was that most Americans were so busy or disconnected from the war that the sacrifices being made by soldiers were not noticed.
"We've got to figure out a way to make these guys feel loved, respected and appreciated," Jim Towse said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday, hours after escorting his son's remains home on a chartered plane.
In a Facebook post about a week before his death, Cody Towse wrote that "Afghanistan is a forgotten war. Nobody cares about the soldiers. Nobody cares about what's going on." The post was written after five members of Cody's battalion were killed, Jim Towse said.
"I think he's right," Roger Perkins, a Vietnam-era veteran and the director of the University of Utah's Veterans Support Center, told The Tribune on Friday.
Perkins isn't at all surprised by the disconnect most Americans exhibit for the war. Without a draft, he says, only about 1 percent of citizens serve in the U.S. military, and news about the war is mostly absent from news reports. From an academic perspective, it's the "right way" to conduct a war, Perkins added, because the losses are not as big as they could be.
"On the other hand, though, it tends to minimize what you are doing," said Perkins, who served more than 20 years in the Army. "People need not to lose sight of what we are doing here. As a nation, we need to not forget. Cody didn't send himself over there, he did it for his community. So what is the community doing to make sure that wasn't wasted?"
Many of Saturday's speakers underscored the importance of remembering those lost in service to their country. Herbert called on Utahns to honor that sacrifice by working to better themselves and their communities, by being engaged citizens and partaking in the democratic act of voting. An emotional Chaffetz said he attends "too many" military funerals and is deeply grateful that there young men and women still raise their hands to serve.
"Those are the kind of people I want my kids to look up to," said Chaffetz, who carries a card in his breast pocket with the name of the soldiers from his 3rd Congressional District who have died in the years since he was first elected. "Those are the kinds of people that we as a community need to remember."
Mark Bearnson's nephew, Adam Hartswick, was serving alongside Cody Towse on May 14 when the IED exploded. Hartswick lost his legs and part of his right hand and is recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, his uncle said.
"You have every reason to hold your heads high and be proud of your son," Bearnson told Jim and Jamie Towse. "Trust me, his [fellow soldiers] will think of Cody often for the rest of their lives."
Cody Towse was buried in the Salem City Cemetery with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps and a helicopter flyover.
The war dead
Besides Towse, the May 14 explosion killed Spc. Mitchell K. Daehling, 24, of Dalton, Mass., and Spc. William J. Gilbert, 24, both of whom were in Towse's unit, and Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey C. Baker, 29, of Hesperia, Calif., assigned to 766th Ordnance Company, 63rd Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group, from Fort Stewart, Ga.
Towse was the 68th Utah soldier killed in a hostile action since 2003 and the first since 2011. See a list of names and faces at http://extras.sltrib.com/theFallen