Richard William “Ricky” Hafer, born Aug. 13, 1982, was an exceptional athlete at Laurel Valley High School — a defensive lineman on the football team, an incredible weightlifter and an outstanding wrestler.
Ricky was four grades above me, but in a small school with fewer than 500 students, many of us had friends throughout every grade. He was a social butterfly, respecting, helping and talking with all who approached him. He was truly full of school spirit and leadership.
My friendship with Ricky was brief but glorious. We would spend hours talking in person, on the phone or online about continuing education, the possibility of enlisting and other plans most teenagers struggle with.
Ricky graduated from high school in 2001 and decided to visit with family in West Virginia.
During this time he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. This came to no surprise to me as he wanted to do something honorable, as well as further his education.
Ricky served with the 1st Battalion 320th Field Artillery, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) based out of Fort Campbell, Ky. On Nov. 15, 2003, the division was on a mission in Mosul, Iraq, where two Black Hawk helicopters crashed. Ricky, at age 21, unfortunately died in the crash, just a week before he was to return home to his family for Thanksgiving.
Our little community in New Florence and surrounding towns was in shock. For most, Ricky was the first of his generation to pass away in a war. Our quiet world in the middle of nowhere suddenly became very real.
For me, this is when the importance of patriotism really sunk in. It was like the whole community thought the same.
Before we knew it, we had fundraisers up and running, newspaper articles, letters, flags everywhere, T-shirts printed, among other items, supporting the effort our troops overseas are making, and to honor our friend, family member and neighbor.
That community togetherness has never left.
Alumni from Laurel Valley and rival United High School held a football game to honor Ricky’s service in both the Army and home community. For those who attended, it was a bittersweet occasion that words can’t describe.
Ricky will never be forgotten. He lives with us all, in our pictures, in our words, in our minds and in our hearts.
God bless and thank you, Ricky Hafer, and all other military members who serve/served our country.