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Fallen soldier laid to rest

Friends and family of fallen Army Master Sgt. George A Bannar, Jr. watch as his casket is loaded into a Hearse following a memorial service at the future site of Locust Grove Elementary School in Locust Grove. / Photo by Peter Cihelka

Hundreds of neighbors, relatives, friends and brothers-in-arms gathered Tuesday to honor “one of our own. A local young man who served his country well,” in the words of one speaker at the memorial service for Orange County’s Master Sgt. George A, Bannar Jr.

A 1993 graduate of Orange County High School, Bannar, 37, died Aug. 20 after being wounded in an attack on his unit in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan. Bannar, who trained as a medic after joining the Army, qualified for airborne duty, and later for the special forces. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C., and was serving on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan.

To accommodate the crowd, the memorial service was held in the newly prepared gymnasium of the Locust Grove Elementary School. Numerous speakers recalled Bannar’s remarkable sense of humor, upbeat personality and zest for life.

High school buddy Randolph Stanley remembered Bannar’s ability to “make everyone laugh until they were close to crying.”

“George lived his life to the fullest,” Stanley said.

Lt. Col. Matthew Harmon, who served with Bannar on his first deployment, recalled Bannar’s arrival to the ODA 313 team as a new medic in 2003. Within 24 hours of his arrival, Harmon said, they were involved in “one of the biggest firefights you could ever imagine, in the middle of the night, with tracers so bright it looked like daylight.”

When Bannar looked over and asked, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” Harmon replied, “Welcome to special forces, brother.”

Later in his career, Harmon said, “I knew he’d be a great leader.”

Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Paine, who served as a fellow instructor during Bannar’s assignment to the Yuma Freefall School, most remembered Bannar’s “huge, booming, contagious personality.”

While teaching his students to skydive, Paine said, Bannar had a way of “calming them down at 2 miles up, letting them know everything was going to be all right.”

“He would listen, advise and mentor,” Paine said. “He was always there when you needed him, and he always made you laugh. He left his mark on everyone who ever knew him.”

Long-time brother-in-arms Master Sgt. Kyle “Skip” McMillan said of his friend, “G.B. was magic, a magician who’d never let you down. I’ll cherish him forever.”

Handshakes with Bannar, he recalled, turned into hugs. “Handshakes are for strangers,” he recalled Bannar saying. “We are family.”

Closing the service, Army chaplain Capt. David Malcolm reminded listeners of the words of a famous general who said, “We should not mourn the passage of soldiers who have died bravely. Rather, we should give thanks that such men have lived.”


Dan McFarland: