NORWICH—Army 1st Lt. Keith Heidtman was killed May 28, 2007 - Memorial Day - when enemy fire brought down his helicopter in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. He was 24 years old.
In a harsh reminder of the meaning of Memorial Day, 10 American soldiers, including an officer from Norwich, died in Iraq Monday.
As Heidtman's family learned of the 24-year-old's death, news was emerging from Iraq about the incident. The U.S. military on Tuesday announced the loss of a Kiowa helicopter - a small, highly maneuverable scouting and attack aircraft with two aboard. As a ground rescue team raced toward the scene, its vehicles were hit by roadside bombs, killing six more soldiers. Two other soldiers were killed Monday by a roadside bomb in south Baghdad, the military reported.
The 116 deaths reported by i-casualities.org, a website that compiles statistics about the war in Iraq, makes this month among the worst of the war. The site also gives the latest total count of U.S. fatalities at 3,468.
Heidtman's family and friends struggled Tuesday with the news that they had lost a son, brother, baseball player and college graduate.
The family issued a statement, saying they were devastated by the loss but "proud of his service to his country."
"We support what he wanted to do," said his stepfather, Arthur Robidoux.
They also wanted to say they were glad for the support already pouring in. Their day was hectic, Robidoux said - "mentally and physically trying."
Keith Heidtman, the son of Kerry Heidtman and Maureen Robidoux, graduated six years ago from the Norwich Free Academy. Hugh "Duke" Campbell, a principal there, was his assistant baseball coach.
"It's tragic news for all of us," Campbell said.
Campbell knew Heidtman since he was a boy coming to baseball camps and remembers him as the hard-working first baseman and outfielder who hit .371 one year.
On Tuesday, he sat looking at a letter of recommendation he had written for the pending grad in 2000, when Heidtman was applying to the University of Connecticut.
It opened: "Keith Heidtman represents everything that is right about young people today. He brings the whole package to the table every day."
Heidtman graduated two years ago from UConn with honors. His education also included ROTC - the four-year training program to become a military officer.
"He showed up in my office one day," said Maj. Glenn Colby, enrollment officer there. "He wanted to serve his country," Colby said. "You couldn't ask for a better kid."
Last year, Heidtman had another graduation - from an Army aviation school in Alabama. And then, six months ago, he was in Iraq.
As Memorial Day approached, Task Force Lightning was working northeast of Baghdad in one of Iraq's more unsettled regions.
The commander of U.S. forces there, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, said earlier this month that Diyala province's government is nonfunctional and that he would need additional forces in Diyala "to get that situation to a more acceptable level."
Seventeen days later, on Monday, eight of his soldiers were killed in this single incident.
A spokesman with the Connecticut National Guard, which is usually assigned to assist Connecticut families like Heidtman's in the casualty process, said his office isn't allowed to talk about such casualties in the first 24 hours after the family is notified.
But as she has so many times, Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Tuesday ordered that the state's flags fly at half-staff until the burial.
From the Multi-National Force Iraq, a brief notice: "Two Task Force Lightning soldiers were killed when a helicopter went down in Diyala province May 28. The incident is under investigation."
Heidtman isn't the first former student of Norwich Free Academy killed in Iraq. That was Spec. Jacob D. Martir, shot in Sadr City in 2004. Nor was he the first ROTC graduate from UConn to fall. Capt. Jason Hamill was killed in Iraq just a few weeks before Heidtman got there.
Contact Jesse Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.