TOP STORY>> Farewell to soldier killed in Iraq
By Brian Rodriguez
Leader staff writer
A highly decorated 26-year-old Jacksonville soldier was buried Monday in Cabot after memorial services were held at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Cabot and before that at Evergreen Chapel in Fort Lewis, Wash., on Friday.
Army Spec. Phillip Nicholas Sayles, 26, was killed May 28 in Mosul, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his security post. Thirteen other soldiers were wounded, as were numerous Iraqi adults and children.
“I watched him develop as a very special young man who has a special love for God and for his country,” said Royce Lowe, pastor of First Assembly of God in Jacksonville.
“Physically, he was of average size, but he had a big heart and spirit.”
“Nicholas was a caring person. He was a responsible person,” Lowe said. “We will never understand why Nick was taken from us so young. We prayed every week for him in our church services and asked God to protect him.”
Sayles earned numerous awards and badges in the Army, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart awarded posthumously. He also earned the Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal for Iraq, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal for Iraq, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Expert Infantryman’s Badge and Sniper Distinction.
Sayles joined the Army as an infantryman and trained to become a sniper before his deployment to Mosul. He worked in the operations section of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Headquarters, drove and operated computers for the battalion commander in Mosul.
He had pleaded for the chance to get out with an infantry squad, said his former commander, Capt. Bryan Carroll, and he was moved to a job on the line with Bravo Company.
“Nick lived up to every one of my expectations,” Carroll told soldiers and family members at Evergreen Chapel. “Not only was he extremely intelligent, he was a natural leader and a brave soldier. He led from the front, taught, coached, mentored – he looked out for everyone around him.”
Spec. Donald Bergren met Sayles the day they arrived at Fort Lewis to report for duty in September 2002. They were standing in front of the wrong building, trying to find their way.
Bergren, still recovering from the Dec. 21 suicide bombing at a Mosul chow hall that killed 22 people and wounded dozens more, stood with a cane in Ft. Lewis and said Sayles had a sense of humor that could brighten even the worst circumstances.
“It was hard to have a bad day with Nick working next to you,” he said. “Nick always had a smile for a friend, and he was loved by many for it.”
Sayles spent many weekends and holidays with Bergren and his wife and children. Bergren said his friend often said how much he admired their family, and said he hoped to have one of his own some day.
Sayles attended North Pulaski High School and was enrolled in ROTC classes at Jacksonville High School for three years before he graduated from Cabot High School in 1997.
His former youth pastor, Dale Dahl, said Sayles was known for his dependability, excelled in leadership and earned several awards while he was in the ROTC at Jacksonville High School. He was a member of the honor guard and a member of the Elite Saber Team.
“Lowe said he performed the marriage ceremony for Sayles’ parents and had known him all his life.
He remembered Sayles and his brother, Joey, enjoyed playing soldier together when they were young, and that he was a good second-baseman in baseball.
Lowe also remembered a time when Sayles worried several people on a camping trip to Greer Ferry. He got separated from his group and they searched everywhere. He was eventually found rolled up in a quilt, sleeping in their tent.
Funeral services at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Cabot were conducted Monday with Rev. Terry Fortner, Lowe and Dahl officiating. Sayles was buried afterward in Sumner Cemetery in Cabot.
“He made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Lowe said. “His love and compassion were big enough to help those who hurt. Nicholas, today we all salute you. We sadly say, Thank you. We are proud of you, and we love you. We do not say goodbye, but we say we’ll see you in a little while.”
His family asked in lieu of flowers that memorials be made to the Nick Sayles ROTC Scholarship Fund at Twin City Bank or Community Bank.