Bonner graduate killed in Iraq
"I am a part of all that I have met"
-- from Alfred Tennyson's "Ulysses"
While the war in Iraq has claimed many lives on all sides, this weekend it claimed the life of someone who friends and family members proudly referred to as one of the finest persons they have ever known.
On Sunday 2nd Lt. James Michael Goins, a 23-year-old who graduated valedictorian of his class at Bonner Springs High School in 1999, was killed by enemy gunfire in Najaf, Iraq. Friends said the man they knew as Mike was killed when an enemy gunman fired into the open hatch of a tank that Goins was in. Goins was one of several U.S. troops who have been killed in Najaf since hostilities escalated in that area Aug. 5. Goins was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, in January.
A gentleman and a scholar
Chris Wood, Goins' former English teacher at Bonner Springs High School, said she has a lot of enduring memories of the classy young man that inspired fellow students and athletes to look up to him.
"Chivalric," she said. "It means helping the helpless, respecting women, showing loyalty to your chosen leader and a devotion to God. That is what it means, and that was Mike."
Mike's father, Jim Goins, is a former pastor at Rehm's Park Southern Baptist Church in Bonner Springs.
Jim Goins said he was proud of what his son accomplished and the way that he lived his life.
"I am most proud of the man he was," Goins said. "The type of man you are has to do with the things you accomplish. I am proudest most of the man he was. I hope those who knew him kind of remember that and try to live up to that."
Mike Goins' best friend, John Mallory, said that though the news was hard to take, he was thankful that he got the chance to know Goins. Mallory said the two had been close since the very first day of freshman football practice at Bonner Springs High School. Mallory later served as best man when Goins married his high school sweetheart two years ago.
"He was a very special, caring person and a good friend to everyone," said Mallory, who graduated with Goins in 1999 and now works with the Seattle Seahawks. "It was an honor being his friend and a privilege being his best man."
Mallory said he will always remember Goins' positive attitude, exceptional work ethic and kind disposition.
"He's been my best friend for so many years," he said.
Wood said of all her memories of Mike Goins, one will stand out in particular. Goins chose to do a Civil War re-enactment as part of his senior project in high school.
Part of that project entailed paying a visit to the local elementary school and teaching the younger students about his findings. It was there, within the halls of Bonner Springs Elementary, where Wood said she witnessed a single small act of kindness to a child.
That act, she said, was indicative of type of character Goins possessed.
"He asked for questions at the end, and a little boy raised his hand," Wood said. "He went over to the boy and rather than tower over him, he knelt beside the boy. He did that intuitively, he just understood people. And I can still see him in that uniform, and this is so hard."
Born to serve
After his high school graduation, Goins enrolled in Kansas State University and participated in the university's ROTC program. He studied history and graduated with honors in May 2003. Lt. Col. Arthur DeGroat, the officer and military science professor who commissioned Goins, said Goins stands out among all the soldiers he worked with and taught.
"I've been at K-State for five years," DeGroat said. "I've dealt with thousands of candidates and commissioned 60-plus lieutenants. If you put Lt. Goins in that pile, he is a diamond amongst all of those pearls. He was a very special and unique individual."
DeGroat said Goins served as the standard by which his ROTC peers were judged.
"He was probably the most well-rounded absolute expert on everything tactical," he said. "He set the standard for the other cadets."
Goins was immortalized in two ways. He was invited to etch his name inside the door jamb at the military science building, an honor reserved for the top student each year, and was pictured standing upon his tank in the current August issue of the Army's magazine.
Jim Goins said he will always remember his son's fascination with the military and the times the two spent watching or participating in Civil War re-enactments. The two were even able to serve together on the same cannon crew during one re-enactment.
"(A soldier) was something he grew up wanting to be," Jim Goins said. "This was under his initiative, something he wanted to do."
While Mike had known he wanted to be a soldier for quite some time, his natural mentality and his work ethic made him a standout soldier and a model civilian.
"He was born to be a soldier," Jim Goins said.
Jim Goins asked that anyone interested in sending a memorial should consider making a contribution to Homes for Troops, an organization which adapts homes to accommodate wounded soldiers who return from duty. Those contributions can be mailed to P.O. Box 615, Buzzards Bay MA 02532.
Jeff Harrington of the Alden-Harrington Funeral Home said the service for Goins will be in Arkansas sometime next week. However, Harrington said a memorial book that friends may sign will be kept at the funeral home, at 214 Oak St. in Bonner Springs, until next week. He said he would send it to the family.
Goins' funeral arrangements were incomplete. The services will be in the family hometown of Berryville, Ark., and will be coordinated by the Nelson Funeral Home, 202 East Madison Blvd., Berryville AR 72616. Telephone (870) 423-2170.