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Army Pfc. Ray J. Hutchinson, 20, of League City, Texas; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell, Ky.; killed December 7 when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle as he was returning from patrol in Mosul, Iraq.

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Thousands pay their respects to League City soldier who died in Iraq

By RUTH RENDON
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Clutching flags and shivering, schoolchildren lined the streets of southeast Houston to somberly watch a hearse and miles of cars wind their way to the cemetery where U.S. Army Spc. Ray Joseph Hutchinson was laid to rest today.

The 20-year-old rifleman, a 2001 graduate of Clear Creek High School, was killed in Iraq last week while returning to his base from a security patrol. His Humvee drove over a handmade explosive device that was detonated by remote control in Mosul. Two other soldiers in the same vehicle were critically wounded.

Today about 700 people turned out for his funeral at Sagemont Church, including former classmates, League City leaders, uniformed soldiers from all branches of the military and U.S. Rep Tom DeLay.

A flag topped his silver casket, flanked by red, white and blue flowers and a framed photograph of the youthful soldier. A pair of black Army boots sat on a pedestal, along with a rifle and a helmet.

Brigadier General Tom Bostic spoke and was on hand for the presentation of a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantry badge to Hutchinson's family.

"He did a great job, a wonderful job in this final function," Bostic said. "We want to let him know what a great job he did."

A slideshow of Hutchinson's life in the military was shown, along with a slide show of his personal life, his baby pictures, his first tooth.

Hutchinson grew up in League City, just south of Houston.  At Clear Creek High School, he was an active student, playing the saxophone in the band and serving as the photographer of the school's newspaper.

After graduating, he attended Texas State University in San Marcos for a year before quitting to enlist in the Army in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He took airborne training to learn to be a parachute trooper as well as a rifleman. He was transferred to 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell just two weeks before he was shipped to Iraq at the start of the war, his family said.

Before leaving for Iraq, he stopped by at his old high school in uniform to say goodbye to his teachers.

In his last telephone conversation with his parents, two days before his death, he said he wanted to come to Houston for his grandmother's heart surgery but did not want to bump another soldier already scheduled to leave Iraq.

As today's funeral procession rolled toward Forest Lawn Cemetery on Almeda Genoa, small flags waved from the car windows and thousands of Houston residents gathered along the streets to pay their own respects. Neighborhoods along the way erected flags in the medians.

Hutchinson was supposed to be home for Christmas, but for his family and friends -- and for many who never knew him -- it was a heartwrenching homecoming.

Clear Creek graduate killed in Iraq

By Carolina Amengual
The Galveston County Daily News

Published December 10, 2003

LEAGUE CITY — A mother Tuesday was finding what must have been the coldest of comfort in the details of her son’s death in Iraq.

“It’s important to me to know that he did not lie bleeding to death,” Deborah Hutchinson said. “He fulfilled a great destiny over a short period of time, and nobody can fire a bullet at him anymore.”

Pfc. Ray Joseph Hutchinson, born in Houston and raised in League City, was killed Sunday in the northern city of Mosul. He was 20 and the second Clear Creek Independent School District student killed in Iraq. Marine Staff Sgt. Phillip Jordan, 42, was killed in March.

Hutchinson, who was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, was returning from a security patrol when an explosive hit his vehicle, according to the Department of Defense. “It was a privilege to be his mother,” Deborah Hutchinson said. “He was very special.”

Deborah Hutchinson, husband Michael and their remaining son, Lee Andrew, 25, were hurting but found solace in knowing that Ray Joseph was spared suffering.

Hutchinson enlisted in the Army after a year of studies at Texas State University in San Marcos. Upon completing his military duty, he wanted to get a degree, possibly in engineering or international affairs.

“He wanted to do something for the country and he decided this was the time in life to do it,” his father said. “When he took the test to qualify, he scored at the very top. When he left, he told us, ‘I’m going to be the best.’ We were so proud of him.”

A beautiful smile and a caring attitude were Hutchinson’s trademarks, those who knew him said. “His name was perfect,” said Wynette Jameson, his journalism teacher at Clear Creek High School. “He was like a ray of sunshine. He was always in a good mood.”

From 1997 through 2001, Hutchinson worked as a photographer for the campus newspaper. He also played in the band for three years.

Soon after joining the military, he returned to school, in uniform, to visit his former instructors. Jameson remembers that day. “He looked gorgeous,” she said. “It was the smile, the uniform and the greater confidence. I still see him at my door.”

While in Iraq, Hutchinson was known for relying on his sense of humor to lift people’s spirits and for sharing cookies and other treats his family sent him with fellow soldiers.

“He was always confident. You didn’t think there was a war when you talked to him,” said Anthony Catapano, 19, who served with Hutchinson in Iraq. “He was hilarious.”

The two young men met at Fort Benning, Ga., in January during a four-month advanced training and were later stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., before being deployed to the Middle East.

“We became best friends,” Catapano said. “We shared everything. We had so many plans. We wanted to go to college together. We were going to visit each other’s families and be friends forever.”

Hutchinson called Friday for the last time. He was trying to get a seat on a plane to Houston to be with his maternal grandmother, who was scheduled to undergo heart surgery at the Texas Medical Center.

“He was talking about the trip,” Michael Hutchinson said. “He had got notice from the Red Cross and was excited. He had not yet confirmed the 11th or the 18th. He said the flight on Dec. 11 was full and that he didn’t want to bump anybody else.”

Deborah Hutchinson was at the Methodist Hospital by her mother’s bedside when she learned her son’s fate. “I stood there looking directly into the man’s eyes and I knew he was telling me the truth,” she said. “I was stunned. I wept and he wept.”

The surgery took place Monday. Hutchinson’s grandmother is recovering. Although the Hutchinsons moved to Phoenix in September, they still have strong ties to League City and Houston.

They had been members of the Sagemont Church for several years. Ray Joseph Hutchinson was baptized there. Buddy Griffin, one of the pastors, spent Sunday night with the family.

“He was a very fine boy and a very faithful member,” Griffin said. “We did a lot of praying and crying. They’re doing as good as they can do.”

The church will soon mount Hutchinson’s picture to their Wall of Honor. A memorial service is expected to take place in about two weeks.

“Unfortunately, Ray Joseph paid the ultimate sacrifice,” his father said. “He wanted to do something for his country. He’s a hero. He’s a young man who made a choice. We want to remember him as a hero.”