Saying goodbye

Family, friends, neighbors, dignitaries say goodbye to Staff Sgt. Lawton

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By AMY HATTEN AND

CHRISTINA M. CURRIE

Daily Press writers

His 4-year-old son called him the "Cowboy Soldier" and would tell anyone who would listen his daddy was "saving the nation."

He asked Jesus to keep his daddy safe.

But in his work to "save the nation," Hayden resident Staff Sgt. Mark Evans Lawton gave his life.

Friends and family members gathered in Hayden today to say good-bye.

Lawton's youngest son, Tanner, wasn't able to say anything. The 1-year-old hasn't seen his father since February. He was 9-months-old when his father was deployed to Iraq to help with reconstruction efforts.

Lawton was killed Aug. 29, 2003, in As Suaydat, Iraq, when a rocket propelled grenade hit his convoy.

Fourteen people in the convoy survived -- four of them were injured.

Lawton was the only fatality. According to Colonel. Jim Euchre, Lawton died in the first minutes of the attack.

"It was a moment in time when my world stopped spinning, for Mark was my best friend," said his wife, Sherri, in a letter read by her father during the service. "We had so many dreams and plans and we were so very happy together."

Sherri said good-bye to the greatest love of her life.

Lawton was 41 and died 14 days before his fifth wedding anniversary -- something friends and family say he would have valued. Next to God, Lawton loved his family more than anything, but the military was a close second.

"We were so close that what was important to one of us was important to both of us," Sherri's letter stated.

She said Lawton was the type of father who would have rather spent time with his kids than with his friends.

"In time, and with my help, his boys will learn to know their daddy and the great sacrifice he made," the letter read.

Lawton's dedication to his family, to God and to the military were exemplified over and over during the standing-room only services at the Routt County Fairground building.

"When he fell in mortal combat his family was deprived of a bright, loving man and the Army lost a brave, superbly qualified combat leader," said Major Jack Lapietra. "We are grief-sickened for his entire family."

Gov. Bill Owens made the trek from Denver to attend the funeral.

"Today we honor a man who had so deep a love for his country that he died to protect us, to protect our freedoms and to protect our children," he said. "The only barrier between tyranny and freedom is a wall of soldiers."

Lawton was born in Elkhart, Indiana and moved to Colorado when he was 16. The Moffat County high School graduate still holds track and field records at the school, family members said.

Lawton first enlisted in the Army on May 1, 1985 for three years and then joined the Marine Corps where he served in active duty for more than a decade. After serving with the Corps, Lawton signed up again-- this time for the Army Reserves.

Though the soldier could have stayed at home he volunteered to deploy when he learned that his unit was scheduled to depart for Iraq, the family said.

According to Neal Anderson, from Boulder, Mark Lawton had immense respect and support from his unit in Iraq.

The father of Sgt. Ryan Anderson also in Lawton's 244th Battalion, said his son went with Lawton to the hospital.

Lawton was killed almost immediately in the attack, Anderson said.

"My son wanted everybody to know that he didn't die alone," Anderson said.

The area where Lawton and his convoy were traveling when it was hit with a rocket propelled grenade was 40 miles northeast of Baghdad and coined RPG (rocket propelled grenade) alley. Known as a dangerous route, Anderson said the soldiers "functioned well" to avoid other casualties.

About 600 servicemen attended a memorial service in Iraq to honor the fallen soldier.

Lawton displayed all the characteristics the Army looks for in a soldier, Major Gen. James Collins said. He was loyal, committed to his duty and commanded respect.

Members of his unit agreed.

"He was very exacting, precise and demanding, but he gave what he asked for and he sincerely cared for us," said Army Specialist Laura Ayers. Ayers served under Lawton for nearly four years. "He didn't just demand respect, he earned it. He deserved it."

Friends said he was a wonderful man with a quick smile.

"I think this country has such a debt of gratitude to him and others like him. We'll miss him," said Sharron Yeager.

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