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Merrill says goodbye to another soldier

MERRILL --The city of Merrill said goodbye Monday to the second hometown soldier killed in Iraq this year.

The small city of Merrill has now lost two young men to the war in Iraq: specialist Grant Dampier and now, 20- year old Sgt. Ryan Jopek.

Neal Strobel, Merrill's police chief, says it's tough on their friends and tough on the city. He says Merrill is a close-knit community on a lot of fronts and he notes that these two young are recent graduates and their circle of friends are still very tight.

Hundreds of mourners gathered inside the Merrill High School field house where Ryan Jopek played basketball, and listened to a eulogy by Governor Jim Doyle.

Ryan's uncle, Tim Jopek, recalled an enthusiastic kid with an infectious smile who wanted to make a difference and he issued a challenge to those who knew him to look at their lives, look at the world, and think of some way to make a difference.

Sgt. Ryan Jopek lost his life to a roadside bomb while on his last mission in Iraq, two weeks before he was scheduled to return home. He was buried next to Grant Dampier, also of Merrill, who was killed in May. Ryan's father, Staff Sgt. Brian Jopek, himself a veteran of Iraq, says his son would have wanted it that way.