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Slain N.C. National Guardsman Remembered

First Lt. Leevi Barnard was killed when a bomb exploded in a Baghdad market a few weeks ago. It was the National Guardsman's first tour overseas. He had been in Iraq for only about three weeks.

Barnard grew up playing baseball and church softball in Virginia.

He finished college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he majored in political science and studied Arabic.

Jessica Jones reports for North Carolina Public Radio.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This spring, First Lieutenant Leevi Barnard was on his first tour of duty overseas with the National Guard. He had been in Iraq for only three weeks when he was killed by a bomb that exploded in a Baghdad market.

North Carolina Public Radio's Jessica Jones has this remembrance.

JESSICA JONES: Twenty-eight-year-old Leevi Barnard grew up in his grandfather's house in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where they hunted for ginseng together. Thomas Barnard keeps the roots they collected last year in tightly sealed plastic bags.

Mr. THOMAS BARNARD: Now, you can just sort of take a look at some of the smaller roots. Now, here's - here, you get into the larger ones.

JONES: Barnard rummages through the ginger-like roots that nutritional supplement companies buy for as much as $800 per pound. Not everyone can spot these leafy plants on the forest floor. But Barnard, who wheezes as he breathes from an oxygen tank, says Leevi was very skilled.

Mr. BARNARD: He could see it. He had an eye for that. Hell, he could be, I'd guess, a quarter of a mile from it and spot it.

JONES: As Barnard sits, he glances at framed photographs of Leevi scattered around his living room. One depicts a cuddly five-year-old in bib overalls. Another shows Leevi in his white baseball uniform, followed by his high school graduation picture. Barnard last saw his grandson two months ago, right before he reported to Fort Bragg.

Mr. BARNARD: We (unintelligible) sitting there talking about it. He said he would be back, but it don't look like he'll be nothing now.

JONES: Barnard had high hopes for the handsome, brown-eyed young man he calls the son he never had. Leevi was born when his mother was only 16. He grew up playing baseball and church softball, and he was voted the most popular student in his seventh-grade class.

By the time Leevi finished high school, he worked in his grandmother's auto glass business just over the North Carolina border. That's where he got to know Dillard Simmons and Dianne Orr.

Ms. DIANNE ORR: If he felt like working that day, he worked. If he didn't, he didn't.

Mr. DILLARD SIMMONS: And when he worked, he worked, didn't he?

Ms. ORR: Yes, he did, and he was very smart.

JONES: Leevi put himself through community college, where the National Guard recruited him, but he also loved having fun. A few years ago, a local car dealer failed to pay his $50,000 bill for new plate glass windows and doors the company had installed. Dillard and Orr say Leevi and a few others went back to the dealer and pried out the disputed glass in broad daylight.

Mr. SIMMONS: He was ready, yeah.

Ms. ORR: Yeah. He was ready to go. (Unintelligible) had a little bit of controversy to it, he was always ready to be right in the middle of it. He wasn't afraid to…

Mr. SIMMONS: That smile on his face, I can see him now.

Ms. ORR: Yeah. He wouldn't have cared if they had to call the sheriff's department and taken him to jail, he'd have enjoyed every minute of it.

JONES: Leevi finished college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he majored in political science and studied Arabic. He joined ROTC and a social fraternity and really loved riding his motorcycle. He talked about becoming a high school history teacher after serving in the military. And according to friend, Abby Hyatt(ph), he enjoyed telling his buddies what to do.

Ms. ABBY HYATT: Every girl wants to go up to their friends and be like, well, you know, does this look okay? And most of them are going to tell you, yes. Leevi was, like, no, that looks awful. If he wasn't bossing you around or being a smart aleck to you, he didn't really care for you that much, I don't think.

(Soundbite of song, "Wagon Wheel")

JONES: Every time Leevi gave friends a ride in his car, he made them listen to his favorite song "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show. That's what played at Leevi Barnard's funeral as his coffin was carried to the little Virginia mountain cemetery where six generations of his family are buried.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham, North Carolina.

(Soundbite of song, "Wagon Wheel")

Mr. KETCH SECOR (Lead Vocalist, Old Crow Medicine Show): (Singing) Headed down south to the land of the pine and summon my way to North Carolin', staring at the road and pray to god I see headlights. I made it down the coast in 17 hours… Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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