Army Sergeant Andrew Richard Looney was remembered Monday as a “little kid with a big heart,” a forever smiling man, a peacemaker, and a friend to all.
Looney, 22, was one of two soldiers killed June 21, 2010, when a suicide bomber attacked their unit at Lar Sholtan, Afghanistan. The other soldier was identified as Private First Class David T. Miller, 19, of Wilton, New York. The military reported that the two were at a traffic-control checkpoint near the village when an insurgent wearing an explosives-packed vest approached and triggered the blast.
Both were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Looney, who would have turned 23 last Saturday, was a Specialist at the time of his death. He was posthumously promoted to Sergeant.
Hundreds of friends turned out Monday night at Owasso Public Schools’ Mary Glass Performing Arts Center, to provide comfort and solace to the Looney family and to praise the life of the soldier.
Outside the building, hundreds of residents, mostly youths, flanked all eight sides of the intersection of 86th Street North and 129th East Avenue, holding up U.S. flags in solemn tribute to Looney. An Owasso Fire Department ladder truck stood nearby, its 75-foot ladder fully extended, with a giant U.S. flag suspended from it.
The crowds outside stood at attention as about 150 motorcyclists, made up of members of the Patriot Guard, Rolling Thunder and other veterans groups, rolled in. The riders flanked the semi-circular drive at the performing arts center, each holding up flags to welcome the Looney family.
Looney’s body arrived last week at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, but his body was not returned to Oklahoma. It was his wish that he be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and arrangements for that are pending.
Among those who spoke at Looney’s memorial service Monday night was Brenda Casey, the principal of Mills Elementary School. She said she remembered Looney and his brother and sister, who she said were all part of a remarkable family, the kind every principal wants.
Casey held out special praise for Andrew Looney, saying he was the “little kid with a big heart” and “those expressive eyes.”
“He brought us all joy,” she said, “and he always brought a smile to your face.”
Looney’s older brother, Steven Looney, fought through tearful emotion to recite the poem “Going Home” in memory of his sibling. He then told of how he and his brother were inspired to join the military. Steven Looney finished a tour of duty with the Navy in December. The audience rose to its feet in an ovation.
A friend, Samuel Johnson, described Andrew Looney as fearless and steadfast, a man who was bound and determined to do what was right. When Looney was home last Christmas, Johnson said, he knew that he would be going to Afghanistan, and yet was not afraid to go.
“He was courageous in the face of adversity,” Johnson said.
Kelly Holliday of Broken Arrow, a family friend, sang two spirituals, “There Is a Balm in Gilead” and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” Holliday’s son, Army Corporal Jaron Duvall Holliday, 21, was killed August 4, 2007, by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
She had sung at her son’s funeral, and among those who eulogized him was Martha Looney, the mother of the Owasso soldier. Looney played football at Owasso High School, where he graduated in 2005. He joined the Army afterward. His family said he was driven to join the military because he felt it was his calling.
The family said Looney first served in Iraq, where he arrived in February 2007. But he lost part of his right foot that August when a roadside bomb exploded while he was participating in a dismounted patrol in Baghdad.
Looney spent more than a year recuperating at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He was fitted with a prosthesis and underwent rehabilitation. In spite of his wounds, he opted to remain with the Army, in the infantry.
After his discharge from the hospital, Looney was assigned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in February 2009. Looney had been in Afghanistan only since April 24. His family saw him shortly before his departure. In addition to his mother and brother, Looney is survived by his father, Richard Looney, and a sister, Joanna Looney, 27.
Looney’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officers Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Infantry Badge and Weapons Qualification M-4 expert